Parents fill treatment gap with pilot project for drug-addicted youth

A group of Ottawa parents concerned about the rise in opioid overdoses in the city is filling what they see as a gap in the system for helping drug addicted youth. 

We the Parents is starting a substance and opioid use pilot program to help teens in the city's west end who have drug issues discuss problems and find peer support. But executive director Sean O'Leary, who founded the group to find help for his 17-year-old daughter Paige, says he's frustrated money has been made available for harm-reduction strategies such as supervised injection sites and not treatment programs. 

Without government funding, We the Parents will rely entirely on corporate and private donors and, as of Thursday, had raised just under half of its estimated $287,000 yearly operating budget. 

In a meeting held Thursday night, O'Leary said he approached the City of Ottawa and Ottawa Public Health for $150,000. He hoped the money could come from provincial money handed over to the City of Ottawa, earmarked for the creation of more detox and treatment spaces, as well as to equip police and firefighters with naloxone kits.

The weekly volunteer-led program would be similar to Alcoholics Anonymous but specially designed for youth, said O'Leary. The group will also be running meetings twice a month for parents of drug-addicted youth, as well as monthly educational seminars for the general public, he said.

Group facilitators will receive training through a free program called SMART Recovery, he said.

The meetings — which will start Oct. 20 — also incorporate a social element, allowing teens time to spend together after each session. The people leading the groups will be closer to the teens' age, too.

O'Leary said this program would especially help teens struggling after completing other treatment programs.

"Often, when [teens] try to stop doing drugs they end up being isolated. And they're isolated for a while and eventually they go back to their old friends," he said.

"And that's part of the stigma because it's hard for them to get new friends that don't do drugs because people are scared of their kids hanging out with our kids that are known to do drugs."

Stephanie Moscrip is a mother of 11-year-old twins in grade 6. She went to her second We the Parents meeting Thursday because she worries about what her kids could face when they enter middle school next year.

"Absolutely, I'm concerned. They're just kids. They don't have that rational processing that we have as adults. If they're exposed to those choices, you don't know what choice they're going to make," she said.

Former B.C. health minister Terry Lake also spoke at Thursday's meeting.

"I've seen the controversy around overdose prevention sites, for instance. There shouldn't be a controversy. We should be keeping people alive."

According to Ottawa Public Health, up to the end of September, Ottawa has had 255 opioid-related overdose visits to the emergency room in 2017, or an average 30 per month. But said there has been an increase in those numbers over the past few months.

By Kimberley Molina
Source: CBC News