Friday, March 13, 2009

Detox rules work well for some - so let's do it both ways

Speaking up for the rights of one group invariably means stepping on those of another, as I was reminded following my recent column on the no-smoking policy at the new detox.
An old acquaintance of mine - I’ll call her Shelly - phoned me after the column appeared to tell me I was wrong to be critical of Vancouver Island Health Authority staff for prohibiting smoking at the detox. She’d arrived for a stay at the brand-new unit last month prepared to hate the prohibition, too, but instead quit smoking - for the first time in more than 40 years.
She was proudly 28 days nicotine-free when I met up with her last week at the Pembroke Street stabilization unit, which is where people fresh from detox ideally get to stay for a month while they work out the details of a life without drugs. Shelly had gone to detox primarily to get off heroin, valium, alcohol and cocaine, but was delighted to have gotten out from under her cigarette habit at the same time.
“I brought a carton with me when I came, because the word on the street was that you could smoke in the bathroom,” says Shelly, the fourth patient through the new detox after it opened in early February. “Then they told me no. I thought, God, I’m never going to be able to do this. I was asking for the [nicotine] patch within a couple hours. But then I did fine.”
My concerns with the no-smoking policy continue - and indeed, Shelly saw a fellow patient get kicked out of detox after being caught smoking. How crazy is it to deny people urgently needed health care just to make a point about the eventual dangers of cigarette smoking? There’s also a gap a mile wide in the system for adults addicted to cocaine or crystal meth, who for the most part are not accepted at the detox.
That said, far be it from me to deny Shelly the very positive experience she had at the detox, partly as a result of not being allowed to smoke. Being in a stable, smoke-free environment - lots of support, lots of nicotine patches - was really beneficial for Shelly, who looks happier and healthier than I’ve seen her look in years.
A solution, then: A medical detox, smoke-free, for people like Shelly - people whose primary drugs are opiates or alcohol and who need the more intense medical care the new detox provides. And a different kind of detox somewhere else, one where people can get help regardless of the drug they’re addicted to and not have to give up smoking at the same time. Nothing expensive or fancy - just a practical, safe place.
Shelly’s latest journey into recovery has been an exemplary one, and worth detailing for what it says about all the things that have to come together to help those overwhelmed by addiction.
It starts with Shelly, of course, because she was the one who went looking for change. But then she had the good fortune of connecting with outreach workers from the Umbrella Society, a very savvy little peer-led non-profit that helps people with addictions and mental-health issues. Shelly had the will, but it was the Umbrella Society that showed her the way.
“Gordon Harper is a large person in my life right now,” says Shelly of the society’s executive director. “I told him that he was going to have to decide where my next move was, because I didn’t have any brains anymore.
“So he set me up with this - detox, stabilization, a recovery home for at least three months, then to Aurora [treatment centre], then back to a recovery home. I’m expecting it will take me a year to do it, but that’s OK, seeing as I’ve wasted eight years using drugs.”
Other things went right as well. Shelly got a rare 18-day stretch in the new detox, almost three times as long as most get. Then she got a bed immediately in the stabilization unit, also not typical. With Harper on her side, she just might make it through the forms, waitlists, phone calls, intake processes, hard work, meltdowns and meetings that await those trying to get help with their addictions.
Shelly says the help is there for those who reach out for it. But I know too many others lost in the fractured system to see her story as the norm. I can’t imagine why we make it so hard.


Anonymous said...

Jody, I'd say it's high time (pun unintended) for us as a society to take a good long look at our relationship to drugs of all sorts. I think we have a wholly unhealthy dependence on drugs, starting with caffeine, but also including alcohol, nicotine, basic pain medications and, of course, illicit soft and hard drugs.

After a study came out showing higher rates of testicular cancer in young males who start using marijuana at a young age, CBC radio interviewed a 17-year-old high school student who said he "needed it" to deal with the stress of his life. With due respect to teenage life, what could possibly be going on in a young man's life that would require him to "need" a relaxant.

But this is what we have in our society. We have a drug to wake us up (caffeine), others to take the edge off (alcohol, nicotine, cannabis), and still others to manage minor pain.

If we were smart, we'd find other ways of dealing with our stress, with our inability to be fresh in the morning and, notwithstanding those who have real debilitating pain issues, understand and prevent pain.

(I know this is tangential to your point, but...)

FWIW, I'm not calling for legal sanctions - I support the decriminalization of those drugs currently illegal - nor am I suggesting that no one should ever use recreational drugs ever again.

What I am saying is that we all have some pretty bad habits. I can't believe it's at all healthy and we should start, as a society, taking a good hard look at what it is we're medicating.

Anonymous said...

Agree with all your points, especially with alcohol consumption on the rise year after year in Canada. And of course, our dependency on all kinds of prescription drugs - pain medication or otherwise - makes me pretty nervous too.

Unknown said...


I some what agree to your article.

Thanks for writing such a great article. It’s really good to know about drug rehab in such a detail. It all begins with the idea to try how it feels when you take a sip of alcohol. It was not only depends a mouthful, so that increases the desire of some of the drink. And that is how we become dependent, and soon will need Alcohol Detox and rehabilitation.