Advocates call for better access to detox centres in Vernon, Penticton

There are no publicly-funded detox centres in Vernon and Penticton.

From a town hall in Vernon to a Penticton council meeting, it was an issue raised at both ends of the valley this week.

It’s also a situation that addiction advocates in both cities would like to see change as the province continues to struggle with an overdose crisis.

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Outside of hospitals, the only publicly-funded detox beds in the Okanagan are in Kelowna, where a non-profit organization called the Bridge operates a 10-bed facility.

The operators said the wait for admission is typically one to three weeks.

“There is significant demand for our detox service. We have folks coming throughout the community, phoning every day, wanting to get into that service,” said John Yarschenko, the Bridge’s director of recovery and addiction.

In Penticton, the executive director of the Pathways Addictions Resource Centre, Daryl Meyer, brought up the issue in a presentation to city council this week.

“We do not have a detox centre here. People have to go to Kelowna or to Kamloops if they want to detox off of drugs,” Meyers told councillors on Tuesday.

“The new ministry of mental health and substance use talks about meeting people where they are at, but I’m not sure we have seen any of that happen in regards to new treatment centres and new detox centres.”

Advocates in Vernon said it is not unusual to send people to Kelowna or Kamloops for detox, either.

“It just creates barriers that I think aren’t beneficial to people getting well,” said Brad Houghton, the manager of addictions services for Turning Points Collaborative Society.

Houghton said having better access to local detox would help clients access services when they have that “moment of clarity where they realize the position that they are in” and want to get help.

It’s an issue one Penticton councillor says civic officials brought to the attention of Judy Darcy, the provincial minister of mental health and addictions last year.

“This council had a meeting with Minister Darcy lobbying for detox beds and very sympathetic language but little to no action,” Penticton city councillor Judy Sentes said.

Vernon city councillor Kelly Fehr, whose professional background is in addictions treatment, believes more detox opportunities are needed but so are more treatment beds.

“Absolutely, we need detox beds for sure, because a lot of people do detox and go right back into their own home and they are supported by their family,” Fehr said.

However, he cautioned that if there aren’t enough treatment beds to go along with the detox facilities, there can be an increased overdose risk if people relapse.

“Now they’ve been clean for a certain amount of time and they go use the same amount they had used and they overdose because their body can’t take it.”

Like many specialized services, Interior Health says detox is centralized in major centres and there are no current plans for new detox facilities in Vernon or Penticton.

“We do have a lot of other services in both of those communities to support people that do have substance use disorders,” said Karen Omelchuk, the health authority’s mental health and substance use network director.

“For people that truly do need that higher level more specialized care, they are able to access them in both Kamloops and Kelowna.”

The health authority argues detox isn’t always the right choice for those battling addiction.

Omelchuk points out the health authority already offers many services, including counselling, overdose prevention outreach nurses, and intensive day treatment programs.

Still, it’s an issue Penticton council has no plans to drop.

“We have to speak to it again,” Sentes said. “The more they hear and the more pressure that they get, hopefully we will see some response.”

The Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions has yet to respond to requests for comment.

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