Canada's Yukon Addiction Services not Adequate: Expert

A British Columbia addictions counsellor says treatment programs offered to young Yukoners are not adequate enough, while territorial government officials admit they don’t know how many youth leave Yukon to seek treatment.

The Yukon government currently offers two options for youth who need addictions treatment: an outpatient counselling program, and a 28-day residential treatment program at the Sarah Steele Building in Whitehorse.

But many treatment programs elsewhere last much longer than that, since people need more time to recover from heir addictions, said Dave Pavlus of The Last Door Recovery Society, a non-profit addictions recovery centre in New Westminster, B.C.

“This is a big problem. Like, this is [a] life-threatening situation,” Pavlus told CBC News.

“I mean, you wouldn’t suggest that somebody did half of a cancer treatment and hope for the best. I think 28 days is like a Band-Aid on a bullet hole.”

Pavlus said while longer treatment programs cost more — Last Door’s program costs approximately $30,000 for a six-month stay — he said governments should see that as a bargain.

“Between family breakdowns and criminal behaviour, treatment itself is prevention. It’s cheaper than jail,” he said.

No intensive programs

Last week, Lana and Ken Putnam of Whitehorse told CBC News they spent $100,000 to send their 22-year-old son Christopher to five different private treatment centres because there is no intensive addictions programs for youth.

Christopher Putnam committed suicide on Jan. 14, after struggling with alcohol and drug addictions for years, his parents said.

Sandy Schmidt, the Yukon government’s acting manager of alcohol and drug treatment services, acknowledged that there is no intensive addictions treatment for youth under 19.

Schmidt also conceded that health officials don’t know how many Yukon teens have alcohol or drug addictions, although they do know 12 youth have taken the 28-day residential program over the past two years.

“We’ve tried our hardest to meet the need in a way that’s not only providing a service but providing human care, because folks are hurting, and parents are upset, and they’re worried and they don’t know what to do,” she said.

Different approach needed

Schmidt added that youth dealing with addictions need a different approach compared to adults.

“That’s one of the challenges of working with youth in intensive treatment, is that it’s a different type of program,” she said.

“The length of time is different, the counsellors who are involved are often different, there’s a recreational component that’s worked into that [and] there’s a life skills component that’s different than what we can offer at the Sarah Steele Building.”

Schmidt conceded it can be difficult for youth in rural Yukon communities to get access to the 28-day treatment program or the outpatient counsellors, which are all based in Whitehorse.

Billy Huberschwerlin of Carcross, Yukon, said he checked into the Last Door program for five months after a crack addiction nearly killed him. He said a 28-day treatment program is not long enough.

“You don’t even have your head on straight after, you know, two months,” he said.

Huberschwerlin said he has been clean for two years and is currently studying to be an addictions counsellor, in the hopes of starting a long-term addictions recovery program in Yukon.

CBC News

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