‘How is our cry of desperation not good enough?’

In the absence of laws forcing treatment, mothers of addicts forced standby and watch as daughters self-destruct, they say

Karen holds a stuffed toy belonging to her daughter Kayla (not their real names).

Karen holds a stuffed toy belonging to her daughter Kayla (not their real names).

Kayla is 16 years old and addicted to crystal meth.

Her mom, Karen, has spent countless long nights scouring Abbotsford streets looking for her, worried sick about her well-being. She’s desperate to get her daughter off drugs and into treatment.

Like any mother, she wants to see her child grow up to be healthy and successful, but she says she doesn’t have the tools at her disposal to help Kayla get clean.

(Names have been changed to protect the identities of individuals.)

Kayla’s drug use began at a young age, when she was living with her grandparents, while Karen worked on her own recovery from addiction. Kayla began drinking at age 12. By 14, she entered a detox facility for an addiction to crack cocaine.

But she was using again soon after.

Kayla returned to her natural personality when she became pregnant at 15: “She was loving; she was sweet; she had this beautiful smile – she glowed.”

But that girl was replaced once again by an angry, resentful “empty shell” only months after her daughter was born, Karen says.

Kayla’s drug use intensified from there.

She went from snorting meth to smoking it for a more intense high. Recently, Karen learned her daughter has begun injecting the drug.

“From there, I started mentally preparing myself to start burying my daughter, because I know that once you start injecting, that’s it. You’ve got nowhere else to go.”

And as the drug use became more intense, so did Kayla’s volatile behaviour. She became increasingly erratic and, at times, violent.

Karen was told by Ministry of Children and Family Development employees she couldn’t allow her addicted daughter to keep living with her because of the threat Kayla posed to her own infant child (Karen’s grand-daughter) and younger sister. MCFD staff told Karen to call the police and urge for charges to be pressed when Kayla had her next outburst.

“She’s not allowed to hit people without consequences, and I understand that,” says Karen. “But I also know that this isn’t my daughter hitting me; this is honestly the drugs … I don’t even know my daughter anymore. It’s that sad.”

In the hopes that charges and an assault conviction would lead to court-mandated drug treatment, Karen did phone police on multiple occasions, but an arrest was never made.

Karen pleaded with police: “Do you understand I am trying to save my daughter’s life here?”

The cops told her that without serious injury, charges couldn’t be laid in an altercation between mother and daughter.

Abbotsford Police Const. Ian MacDonald told The News that police try to avoid getting involved in chronic family conflicts. He said it is not the police department’s duty to become a “de facto parent.”

Karen has bonded with Laura, a mom in virtually the same situation. Laura’s daughter Christine is Kayla’s best friend and partner in drugs. They spend most nights away from their parents’ homes, often injecting meth together.

The moms want to see a Secure Care law passed in B.C., which would give them the right to force their kids into detox and drug treatment programs. Similar laws exist in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where a minor can be held in treatment for up to 15 days, as they come off drugs.

The moms say they know what’s best for their kids, who are incapable of making this call for themselves. They feel they must act now, to intervene before the habit becomes permanently entrenched.

“How is our cry of desperation not good enough?” Karen says.

More than 20 years ago, Diane Sowden of Coquitlam began fighting the exact same battle.

Trying to get her teenaged daughter off drugs through the courts led to media appearances, and eventually a seat on a working group, which published a report calling for a Secure Care law in B.C. in 1998.

In 2000, a bill was written and passed third reading in the B.C. legislature but never came into law before the NDP government of the day was toppled in an election.

Sowden has since founded an organization in Coquitlam, Children of the Street, and hasn’t stopped advocating for such legislation.

Sowden’s daughter, now 36, still struggles with addiction to this day.

“I believe – and, more importantly, my daughter believes – that if someone had intervened when she was 13 or 14, that she wouldn’t be where she is today. And she’s actually quite bitter against the child protection system and she feels that they let her down.”

The current Minister of Children and Family Development, Stephanie Cadieux, was not made available for an interview but a statement provided by a spokesperson said the province “is committed to providing the most appropriate services for people suffering from mental health challenges and addictions in British Columbia, and we welcome any ideas on how we may be able to improve these.”

The ministry statement does not indicate if the current government has any plans to bring in a Secure Care law, although it does point to recent additions to mental-health and substance-use services in the region.

But there is a serious lack of treatment services in the area, according to Munir Veljy, a University of the Fraser Valley instructor and social worker with 24 years of experience.

He said addicted youth will often complete a week or two of detox, but won’t have somewhere to go for the crucial follow-up treatment needed to keep them off drugs.

Veljy is not, however, a proponent of Secure Care laws.

“We know forced treatment doesn’t work.”

Veljy said it’s better to focus on getting an addicted teen to engage with counselling to some degree, even if they continue to use between sessions. He says once there is even five or 10 per cent “buy-in,” a seed can be planted that may one day grow into a recovery.

Kirsty, 21, grew up in a typical middle-class household in Abbotsford but often struggled to fit in and suffered from low self-esteem. It wasn’t until switching schools a few times that she found a friend group where she felt she belonged.

But those friends introduced her to drugs and alcohol.

Much like Kayla and Christine, Kirsty’s recreational drug use quickly progressed into an addiction.

She now speaks openly about her challenge, in order to help others.

As she used harder drugs – ecstasy, heroin, cocaine – with increasing frequency, Kirsty continued to see a counsellor arranged through her high school. And although she spiraled to rock bottom and had several attempts at treatment and recovery, Kirsty credits those sessions and that relationship with her eventual sobriety.

“I don’t think I would be where I am today without that,” she says, after three years clean.

One difference between her previous treatment stays and periods of sobriety and her most recent one, which stuck, was her attitude going into the program. Previously, she was at least partially motivated by a desire to appease her parents, but the final time, she had a deep, personal desire to live a different life.

Kirsty says she has every sympathy for Karen and Laura and the pain they feel, seeing their children struggling with addiction. But she doesn’t think forcing treatment will work.

“They have to want to change in their heart, not for anybody else.”

Kirsty says she built a “snow globe of lies” around her while she was using. Her whole world was an insular group of friends who used drugs together.

“What I would say to them (Kayla and Christine) is: There’s so much more to live for out there than it seems now.”

Both Kirsty and Veljy stress that any amount of engagement with treatment or therapy is good for an addict, even as they continue to use.

People dealing with addiction, and their friends and family, are encouraged to call the Alcohol and Drug Information and Referral Line at 604-660-9382.