Needles are seen on the ground in Oppenheimer park in Vancouver’s downtown eastside on March 17, 2020. Indigenous and civil liberties groups say the British Columbia government failed to consult them before proposing legislation that would force youth under 19 to stay in hospital after an overdose. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Proposed B.C. legislation to detain youth who overdose could harm them: doctor

Minister Judy Darcy has said the proposed changes could help ensure the immediate safety of young people

Indigenous and civil liberties groups say the British Columbia government failed to consult them before proposing legislation that would force youth under 19 to stay in hospital after an overdose.

The province announced its plan to amend the Mental Health Act last month, saying youth could be kept in care for up to seven days in order to stabilize them and create a treatment plan that would involve parents.

However, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association are among groups that say the government didn’t ask for their input on legislation that may stop youth from accessing care if they’re detained against their will.

READ MORE: B.C. to impose ‘stabilization care’ for youths after overdose

They’re demanding the proposed legislation be withdrawn, especially as fatal overdoses increase, with a monthly record of 175 deaths last month.

Judy Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said Indigenous youth would be most affected by the changes and instead need support services before they overdose and end up in an emergency department.

“If the province had talked to some of these families and advocates there could have been a lot more suggested, instead of unilateral changes,” Wilson said.

“More alternative programs than just hospitalization are needed,” she said, adding long wait lists for programs and treatment leave youth without hope as drug use becomes entrenched and families end up in crisis.

“There aren’t enough programs so it ends up being the only solution, to leave them in the psych ward, in an institutional setting,” Wilson said. “And of course youth rebel because they don’t want to be in a hospital.”

The Mental Health and Addictions Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Minister Judy Darcy has said the proposed changes could help ensure the immediate safety of young people and provide them with support after they’re discharged.

However, Dr. Keith Ahamad, an addictions specialist at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, said there aren’t enough treatment beds available for either youth or adults.

Ahamad was among the physicians and public health experts consulted about the proposed legislation but he said their concerns weren’t taken into consideration.

“Everyone was very surprised to see the proposed changes,” Ahamad said, adding youth fearing they could be detained in hospital will no longer trust doctors trying to treat them.

“I see this hugely, disproportionately affecting Indigenous youth and as they age. The therapeutic relationship and the potential for me to provide care for these youth is significantly impacted when they’re treated like this. The scientific evidence suggests that, as well as the clinical experience.”

Detaining youth for seven days would also lower their tolerance to street drugs, which is particularly problematic as substances have become more toxic during COVID-19, Ahamad said of disruptions to the normal supply due to border closures.

“A 17-year-old doesn’t want to be forced into doing anything that they don’t want to do. And if best evidence suggested that this would be effective and potentially lead to improved outcomes then of course we would advocate for it.”

He said rather than amending the law, there’s an urgent need for the province to provide a comprehensive system of support.

“Currently within British Columbia we don’t have a functioning system of care within the community. We have people admitted to withdrawal management centres within acute care settings and we discharge them to nothing,” he said.

“To me, as a parent and a scientist and a clinician, that is the crux of the issue. We’re not looking after patients when they leave hospitals and that’s the real downfall of the system.”

READ MORE: Mom of teen who fatally overdosed says B.C. needs treatment beds, not just involuntary holds

The BC Centre on Substance Use was also not consulted by the province, and neither were drug users’ groups or Moms Stop the Harm, a national support group of about 1,300 parents whose children are struggling through addiction or have died of an overdose.

Leslie McBain, a spokeswoman for the latter group’s chapter representing 650 members in British Columbia, said that while the intention behind the proposed legislation is good, it is “fundamentally flawed.”

“If a kid ever wanted to recover from drugs and ever had the idea there was something for them this might just dash their hopes,” McBain said.

“If the individual is scared or threatened and doesn’t want their parents to know and wants out it’s not conducive to healing,” she said.

“I think the government should step back, look at it again given the criticism and pushback they received and do some more consulting.”

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

B.C. overdosesoverdoseoverdose crisis

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 18 COVID-19 cases, highest daily count since July

The total of COVID-19 cases in the region is now at 662

COVID-19. (Courtesy of CDC).
Interior Health reports 12 additional COVID-19 cases

The total number of cases in the region is now at 644

A section of the Trans-Canada Highway north of Lytton. The highway will be closed for eight hours starting at 10 p.m. on Oct. 22. (Photo credit: BC Back Country)
Highway 1 from Spuzzum to Cache Creek to be closed for eight hours starting Oct. 22

Ten-hour closure will allow work to be done on bridge at Spuzzum

(from l) Fraser-Nicola candidates Aaron Sumexheltza (BC NDP), Jonah Timms (BC Green Party), Mike Bhangu (Independent), Dennis Adamson (Independent), and Jackie Tegart (BC Liberals) physically distancing after the All Candidates Forum in Ashcroft on Oct. 15. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)
Candidates face questions about health care, housing, and more

All five Fraser-Nicola candiates were at a forum in Ashcroft on Oct. 15

(front row, from l) Ashcroft and District Lions Club president Sue Peters; Joan Henderson of The Equality Project; Esther Lang from the Christmas Hamper committee; Trish Schachtel of the South Cariboo E. Fry Society food bank; and Tim Hortons manager Damian Couture with members of the Lions Club. (Photo credit: Gareth Smart)
Smiles all round as Lions raise money for three local groups

Equality Project, food bank, Christmas hamper fund all benefit from Tim Hortons Smile Cookie sales

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

BC Liberals Leader Andrew Wilkinson, BC Greens Sonia Furstenau, BC NDP John Horgan (The Canadian Press photos)
British Columbians vote in snap election called during COVID-19 pandemic

At dissolution, the NDP and Liberals were tied with 41 seats in the legislature, while the Greens held two seats

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

RCMP stock photo (Black Press)
Charges laid against Prince George man, 39, in drug trafficking probe

Tyler Aaron Gelowitz is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 18

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

Most Read