There are addicts in Parksville Qualicum Beach that are ready for treatment, but too many are being turned away.
That was the message from Kelly, a recovering addict and an advocate who organized a speaking event Nov. 30 at the Parksville Community Centre. (She did not want to give her last name).
Kelly and the other speakers in attendance are proof that treatment works, she said.
“If it can work for me it can work for them.”
But instead of getting treatment when they are ready, addicts, people she knows in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area, are dying.
In response, Kelly called on the about 50 people who attended the event to address their stigma around those with addictions including the homeless addicted, to educate their friends and family, to pressure government for action on funding for treatment beds, and ultimately to push for a detox and treatment centre near, but outside of, the City of Parksville.
Kelly and four other recovering addicts from the Island shared parts of their stories, about becoming addicted and about finding help. (None of the speakers wanted to share their last names).
Moe was a professional football player who now has 19 years of sobriety.
As a five-year-old kid, he would witness his father beat his mother. He said he would eat Ovaltine, getting hopped up on sugar to make himself feel better. Later he got into alcohol, and more was always better. Then it was hard drugs as well. It worked for him, until it began killing him, he said. But, for awhile, that wasn’t enough to stop.
“I know it’s going to kill me, but I’m going to get up in the morning and do it again,” he said. “Addiction doesn’t make sense.”
But when his mom found his crack pipes one day, she called a treatment centre and they walked her through what to do, and she spent what she had to get him help. It took time, and multiple treatment centres, but it eventually worked for Moe, and now he works at a treatment centre, he said.
Bee was a good kid from Tofino. She got good grades and had a supportive family. But she started drinking alcohol at a young age.
“A lot of us drank,” she said.
There wasn’t too much else to do.
At first it was over the weekends, and in a year it was every day. At 16, it was cocaine, ecstasy and acid. She dropped out of school and worked a dead-end job.
“I wasn’t living anymore. I was just existing. All I cared about was getting high and drunk,” she said.
She got into abusive relationships, she became aggressive, depressed and suicidal. Her sister began planning what she’d say at her funeral, she said. But a relative, a drug and alcohol counsellor, got her detoxed, and her family paid for treatment. Now she’s substance-free for a year-and-a-half.
“I’m helping others,” she said. “I’m the product of a treatment centre.”
Mike said drugs became a problem for him in his early adult life, but he got help at a treatment centre and is now in second-stage housing: a place to live after treatment while you get your life together. He stressed the need for more second-stage housing, because otherwise, recovering addicts end up back on the street with people who are using.
“We’re setting them up for failure,” he said.
Sean read a letter from his mom to Kelly for helping him get treatment. Addicted to alcohol, he said getting into treatment was a huge fight, with Kelly helping to bring him to five or more facilities before one finally admitted him after they threatened to go to the news about it.
“That’s something that I’d really like to see change. That has to change,” he said.
Kelly didn’t know how to read or write. Living outside was what she knew. Addicted to drugs, she was a con artist in this community, taking out her pain on the community, she said. But, eventually, she decided she needed help.
“I was so sick and tired of being sick and tired… I didn’t want to die,” she said. “I was my problem.”
She got treatment almost eight years ago.
“They nurtured me back to health.”
She had one relapse, and was briefly out on the street.
“It was so cold out there,” she said, and she tried again. Now she’s been sober for four years.
She’s gone back to school, she said, learned to read and write, completed Grade 10 math and is working to graduate high school and go to university.
It was a long way up, though. It took time to learn how to live indoors, to learn how to use a TV. Email and the internet are some of the things she has yet to tackle. But she’s getting better.
“Today, my life is better in ways I can’t imagine,” she said.
Now she wants to bring that same change for others.
“I hurt this community with everything I had, but I’m not letting this beautiful city go down any further.”
Several members of the audience quickly asked to know what action they needed to take to make changes. Eventually, audience members demanded that a sheet of paper and pen go around so that anyone interested could add their name, phone number and email to a list so that they could keep in touch as a group to work on the issue of drug treatment.
Other audience members pushed for a committee with people who attended the event to be formed, while others suggested getting involved with existing groups like the Oceanside Task Force on Homelessness, Oceanside Harm Reduction and others.
However, one man, the first audience member to ask a question, asked what assurances he could be given that addicts in a treatment centre near Parksville wouldn’t rob him or other community members, or destroy property. He said addicts need to prove to him that they won’t do that before he would support a treatment centre.
Moe and John, another presenter who works at a treatment centre, responded, saying it’s not the person who’s getting help that people should worry about: it’s the people who haven’t gotten help yet.
Kelly said, in her decades of being addicted and homeless, she didn’t break into people’s houses, but she said if she didn’t get help, she’s sure she would have ended up doing that and worse.
“We all have our own stigma,” Moe said, but we all have to confront it, and realize that addicts aren’t just homeless people, but neighbours, their kids, bus drivers, friends, people working at the grocery story, politicians, cops — addicts can be anyone in any position. Addiction has to be treated as a medical issue, not a moral or a criminal issue, said the presenters. Some pointed out the support that cancer patients and others get, saying they hope that those with addictions can be treated with a similar respect and a helping hand.
As the meeting was wrapping up, presenters were urging the audience to speak with their neighbours, their councillors, their MLAs, their news media outlets and put pressure on the issue of addicts who are ready for treatment but can’t get it because they can’t afford it, there is no space or the wait times are too long.
There was still, however, some question as to what immediate effect the meeting would have. But one man (who wished to remain nameless) began asking John about what treatment looks like and how much it costs for a person to get treatment.
At the treatment centre he works at in the Comox Valley, it’s $4,500 for 30 days (a low amount compared to many other treatment centres, he said).
Earlier in the night, Kelly had spoken about several addicts she was trying to get into treatment but couldn’t. The man asked, if John had $4,500 for treatment, when could one of Kelly’s people awaiting treatment get in?
Monday morning, said John.
The man said he would provide the $4,500, and asked everyone at the meeting who was willing to do what they can to indeed act: whether by providing moral support, money, their time or their skills.
“I can’t believe that just happened,” said a teary Kelly.