John Yarschenko on Celine Thompson of The Bridge Youth and Family Services. They say they have helped youth as young as 12 years old with withdrawal management. (TheBridgeServices.ca)

Penticton council supports “dire need” for youth rehab centre

Bridge Recovery Services seek support for youth dealing with lack of treatment facilities.

According to a youth and family services organization, the lack of rehabilitation services for drug addicted youth in the Okanagan is a “significant concern.”

Celine Thompson, director of Kelowna-based Bridge Youth and Family Services, spoke to Penticton city council Tues., Jan. 22, seeking support for her organization’s effort to build a new youth recovery centre in the Okanagan.

Representtives of the organization are travelling throughout the Okanagan seeking support from municipalities to build a 16-bedroom, live-in youth recovery house. There are currently 45 publicly-funded spaces in B.C. for youth addiction recovery, but none in the Okanagan for youths under 17.

According to Thompson, that is creating a tremendous unmet need.

“Our children and families needlessly suffer by not having their health needs met locally,” she told council. “Given the overwhelming need in our communities…we’ve decided to take the leadership (role). We can’t wait.”

The Bridge has already received support from councils in Kelowna, Peachland, Osoyoos and Oliver. Penticton council became the latest to support the effort after Thompson spoke on Tuesday.

The Bridge is a not-for-profit substance use services organization that has served the Okanagan since 1969. Providing youths struggling with addiction better access to recovery services is one of the most pressing issues it addresses, Thompson said.

The organization operates a four-bed detox program for youths aged 17 to 24 in Kelowna, the only space for youth treatment in the Okanagan. In 2019, it served 62 youths.

Thompson said many youths and their families are forced to get treatment out of province at an “extraordinary” cost to the provincial government . That also creates additional stress for families.

Overdose deaths in B.C. have increased at an alarming rate in recent years. According to Statistics Canada, there were more than 1,500 reported overdose deaths in B.C. in 2018. A total of 231 of them occurred in the Interior, with 55 in Kelowna.

In 2018, 17 young people between the ages of 10 and 18 fatally overdosed in the province.

Treating youths in the early stages of addiction is key to stifling the overdose epidemic, Thompson said.

“The majority of participants at Bridgeway, our adult treatment program, tell us their addiction began in their youth,” she said.

“At the very core, youth treatment is all about prevention. If we invest in people who are struggling with addiction when they are young, we will impact the safety, vibrancy and health of the Okanagan for years to come.”

Penticton Coun. Katie Robinson acknowledged Thompson’s concerns.

“It’s such a sad commentary that these children are falling through the cracks,” said Robinson.

“It’s just so important that they get the help that they need at the time that they need it, and they’re just not getting it.”

The Bridge is currently working with Meiklejohn Architects Inc. to design the recovery house and has committed $300,000 of its own money to the project.

It is looking for a one- to two-acre property in the Okanagan to offer a natural setting that promotes recovery and healing for youth, with a priority on those who are unable to afford private treatment.

Penticton council gave its unanimous support to the project.

READ MORE: Interior Health finds Penticton’s fatal overdose rate ‘concerning’

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