VICTORIA — A Victoria father is pleading for the power to check his 15-year-old daughter, who he says is addicted to heroin, into rehab.
The father says it breaks his heart to watch his daughter make life-threatening decisions. As a parent, he says, this is one he should be able to make for her.
“She’s a child. Her brain is not completely developed. She’s already suffering emotional issues and now the drugs are doing the talking for her. She’s not thinking rationally,” said the father, whose name cannot be used to protect his daughter’s privacy.
“I don’t think she will go to rehab voluntarily until she hits rock bottom. But I don’t think there is another rock bottom. I think the only thing that could happen is for her to die.”
The father believes his daughter began using hard drugs last summer. About three months ago, she had a medical emergency and was taken to hospital.
That’s when the family learned she had crystal meth in her system. She also told one family member she had used fentanyl and regularly uses heroin.
She has since gone to hospital at least once more for overdose treatment.
The father said he has had multiple frank and tearful conversations with his daughter. The family has tried everything from working with her therapist to hiring an interventionist, but is feeling devastated, exhausted and powerless, he said.
“We expressed our concern and yearning for her to seek help and rehabilitation. But at that point it became obvious that would be almost an impossible task.”
Reading a Times Colonist story about an Esquimalt teen’s overdose death on Easter weekend hit home for the father. He texts his daughter every day.
“I tell her that I love her and to be careful and to take care. And when I get a response, I just know that she’s alive. And that’s all I can ask right now.”
The question of whether youth should have the same freedom as adults when it comes to seeking treatment has divided the provinces.
Alberta has allowed parents to get a court order to send their children in mandatory addiction treatment programs since 2006. The period of confinement was extended to 10 days from five in 2012, and there is a provision that lets a judge extend that to 15 days.
Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have similar legislation.
In B.C., the issue has been raised in recent years by Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the province’s former representative for children and youth. She called for involuntary secure care after finding some youth had died because they fell through the cracks of mental health and addiction treatment.
In October, Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux said voluntary treatment has been shown to be most effective and the province had no plans to offer involuntary secure care.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association also says there’s not enough evidence to show that forcing secure care works.
Policy director Micheal Vonn said the association favours strategies that are less intrusive, such as controlling the supply of drugs and providing it to addicts on a prescription basis.
“We have massive amounts of empathy for parents who find themselves in this terrible place,” she said. “That said, we are concerned about the notion that parents should be making health-care decisions for their mature minors.”
It’s important for minors to have control over their own health care when they have the capacity to do so, Vonn said, citing access to birth control as an example.
Determining capacity isn’t strictly based on age, she said. While it’s widely accepted that parents will make decisions for their seven-year-old children, a youth’s capacity to make their own decisions could come around 12, 13 or 14, depending on the individual. Consent to health-care treatment is based on maturity level, the Justice Education Society says.
Vonn also said forcing a person into short-term treatment could put them at greater risk when they’re released.
“The question then becomes, once they are released, are they actually more inclined or set up for an overdose because they don’t have a structured program to go into to support them in recovery?” she said.
Peter Beka, youth program co-ordinator at the Last Door treatment centre in Vancouver, said recovery tends to depend on how ready someone is to face their substance use.
“I think when an individual consents to treatment, there’s a personal buy-in and an investment to change,” Beka said.
He recommends families maintain open lines of communication with their children and avoid interrogative approaches. Look for resources through the health authority and learn about the variety of services that exist, including day treatments and private counsellors.
Family members should also access supports for themselves — it will be easier to help children make healthier decisions if you’re in a healthy place yourself, he said.
The Ministry of Health declined to comment, because of the upcoming election. Last month, it announced six new beds for substance-use treatment in Victoria and one in Port Hardy.
Island Health said referrals go through its “Discovery Program,” which begins with community-based counselling and can extend to residential treatment in Victoria, Nanaimo, Port Hardy or the mainland.
For his part, the distraught father said he will continue to text his daughter and hope for the best. But he feels increasingly worn out.
“It’s our responsibility as parents to take care of our children. And we can’t, if we can’t make them get the help they need,” he said.
“This huge life decision is being left up to the children and I don’t understand why it’s legal in some provinces and in the United States, but not here. Are the children here any less important?”