Santa Claus taking a new parade route in Bay Roberts
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Mother of 17-year-old drug addict discusses problems with system
• Names have been changed to protect the identity of the youth and his family.
• This story deals with graphic subject matter and may not be suitable for all readers.
It’s a mother’s worst nightmare, getting the call saying her child was severely injured, or worse, dead.
That is what Cathy experienced earlier this month when her teenage son called her unexpectedly.
“I knew something wasn’t right because my phone was vibrating differently, not like a text message,” Cathy told The Compass at her home last week. “It was Steven. He said, ‘Mom I’m in trouble. I tried to off myself.’”
In 2014-15, 554 young people under the age of 18 went to the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre for depression, suicide or self-harm.
After a breakup with his girlfriend, the 17-year-old felt like life wasn’t worth living. Others heard a commotion and managed to help him before it was too late.
He then ran off and called Cathy, which began the most difficult week of her life.
Steven has been addicted to different types of drugs for the past four years. He is now receiving help at a provincial government youth facility in Grand Falls-Windsor called Hope Valley. This is the first time he reached out for help.
“I told him, ‘You knocked on death’s door. You’re lucky he didn’t answer,’” she said.
Steven was immediately brought in to emergency at a local hospital and placed under suicide watch. After being evaluated by a mental health professional at the facility, it was determined he was high risk to harm himself. That determination began a long process of brick walls and barricades.
The Waterford Hospital wouldn’t accept him because he was still a minor, and the Janeway initially tried to refer him to the Waterford. But after a bit of back and forth, Cathy said he was admitted to the Janeway.
Immediately upon arrival, Cathy was attempting to get Steven referred to Hope Valley. But that proved more difficult that she thought.
Instead of keeping Steven at the facility while waiting for the referral, a psychologist told Cathy to sign him out and take care of him at home for 24 hours until he could get into Hope Valley. So she took him home to begin detoxification. It was the worst experience of her life.
“No one should ever see their child like that,” she said.
The following day, a Friday before a long weekend, she made dozens of calls to the Janeway, the psychologist’s office, Child, Youth and Family Services and other Eastern Health departments, just trying to get an answer.
From the time he attempted to kill himself until he was admitted to Hope Valley, six days passed.
“Six days in my house with me and my family taking care of him,” Cathy said. “I had to watch my son detox for six days, with no call back.”
Eastern Health referred 3,179 individuals for mental health services in 2014-15.
When someone finally called back, Cathy said it was because she threatened legal action.
A social worker wrote the referral and gave her a stack of paperwork to fill out, and Steven was off to rehabilitation.
The Department of Health and Community Services has a scale for determining how fast youth get referred — emergent, severe, moderate and mild. This process could result in immediate service or a 30-working-day wait period.
Eastern Health did not address any details regarding Steve’s referral to Hope Valley or his experience with the health authority in an emailed statement to The Compass.
Not just a joint
Steve’s drug use was not progressive. He got hooked on the hard stuff almost immediately.
“When Steve came home that first night after the first time (taking drugs at a party), he wasn’t my son. My son never came home,” she said.
It was a joint of marijuana that he had, but it was laced with cocaine, something known on the street as a freezie.
“He just got a taste for it,” Cathy said.
It was downhill from there, with numerous criminal charges, excessive drug use and violence. Steve stopped going to school and lived in numerous places over the next few years.
Because he was living on his own, Cathy said he would receive money each month from the government as a living allowance. He would in turn use this money to buy drugs.
Cathy complained to numerous government organizations about the practice, calling the government hypocrites for feeding a child’s addiction. She also noted anyone can get their hands on most drugs since there are many dealers in the area.
“People need to understand the dangers that are lurking right outside your door for your children,” she said.
A drug that Cathy said is common in the CBN area is salvia divinorum (salvia), a plant native to southern Mexico with psychedelic properties. It was supposed to be added to a ban list by the federal government earlier this year, but has made its way into the region. Cathy is concerned about the underage children being targeted to sell the drugs to, because that was going on with her son.
After years of trying, Steven finally agreed to get help, but it was almost too late for him. He received a lot of assistance from the U-Turn addictions centre in Carbonear, which helps people all over Trinity Conception.
“I had to mourn the loss of my son,” Cathy said, noting she had to realize that the son she had was not the same anymore and couldn’t blame herself.
“At the centre, we say, ‘You didn’t cause it, you can’t fix it,’” Cathy said. “That’s something you have to come to terms with.”
She is actively building a relationship with Steve again through phone calls.
“I have to make him aware of how proud I am of him,” she said. “It’s the only way we’re going to move forward.”
The program will take six months — 90 days in the youth facility and 90 days in the community.
Anyone can self-refer to mental health and addictions by calling the Grand Falls-Windsor office at (709) 489-8101. An intake nurse will make appropriate referrals to programs and services, including referring to a clinician for counselling.