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B.C. deficient in treatment beds, mother says

After losing her son to an overdose, Sherry Robinson turns to advocacy
By Mike Youds
August 29, 2016 3:03 P.M.
Tyler Robinson as a young boy. (Sherry Robinson)

While the province says it’s doing all it can in the face of an unprecedented epidemic of drug overdoses, government seems to have overlooked a critical shortcoming, says a Pinantan mother.

Sherry Robinson points straight to a recent recommendation from Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C’s representative for children and youth, for a comprehensive approach to youth suffering from substance use disorder.

Robinson, who lost her son Tyler to an accidental overdose in January, said there has long been a chronic shortage of treatment resources for youth even though community-based agencies do the best they can.

Tyler Robinson, 23, died after ingesting heroin laced with fentanyl.

“We can’t even respond adequately to the crisis because we weren’t responding before,” Robinson said. “There are only 22 treatment beds available provincewide. That recommendation hasn’t been fulfilled by government.”

She intends to join another local mother at Wednesday’s Kamloops Farmers Market, where the Phoenix Centre will have a booth set up to petition support on International Overdose Awareness Day.

In May, Turpel-Lafond released a report critical of a piecemeal approach to youth with substance use problems in B.C. An estimated 68,000 youth between 15 and 24 years old fall into that category.

“The reality is that B.C. youth are often not getting help when and where they need it and the opportunity to prevent longer-term consequences for them and their families is missed,” she noted. “This province has a shortage of residential treatment beds and spotty availability of services in various regions. Getting the right intervention for substance use issues where these youth live is crucial to their future well-being.”

Robinson said adequate treatment can be a lifesaver for youth caught up in addiction. Overdoses can happen to anyone, anywhere, she says. One of the greatest obstacles to preventing them lies with prevailing attitudes that cast blame instead of compassion on drug users. Those attitudes are not only unhelpful, they are used to justify a lack of empathy.

“The biggest thing I’ve noticed is stigma and shame,” she said.

Not unlike other parents who’ve lost children to addiction, she has spent the last eight months grappling with the circumstances leading up to her son’s death. It was an eight-year struggle that included a while late last year when Tyler was living under the Overlanders Bridge.

Social stigmas about addiction therefore affect not only the addicted but their families and friends as well, Robinson said.

“From the stigma of having the police to our family home several times to mediate my sons’ acting-out behaviours, to the lack of timely or successful engagement in support services at a younger school age, and to the last year of some of my sons’ crisis incidents on the streets of Kamloops, these experiences have weighed heavily on myself as his single parent mother,” she writes.

Wednesday brings an opportunity for her to drive home the message, to bring respect, not shame, to all those who struggle with mental health and substance use disorder challenges.

The booth, including a remembrance art tribute, will be located next to the library at Fifth and Victoria, 8 a.m.-2 p.m.

As well, a candlelight vigil will be held at the old fountain in Riverside Park at 8:30 p.m.

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