Penticton’s addiction treatment centre talks demographic of clients, challenges

Pathways Addiction Resource Centre has seen 120 per cent increase in users in 15 years

Naloxone kits, which are distributed into the community through the Pathways centre and other services, are used to treat drug overdoses. (Ministry of Health photo)

Contrary to some beliefs, homeless people may not be the main demographic using opioids in Penticton according to data collected by the Pathways Addiction Resource Centre.

City council heard a delegation from Daryl Meyers, executive director of Pathways, during the committee of the whole on June 4 in regards to the services it offers the community. She also spoke to the demographic of clients she and staff see accessing the centre most.

“Pathways is here to foster the well-being of the whole person and their connected to self, family and the community when dealing with substance abuse and addictions,” said Meyers. “All of the services we provide are out-patient treatment. So that means people do not have to leave the community and go to in-patient treatment.”

“We know we’re in a bit of an opioid crisis and the thing with opioids is that a lot of people use them that have chronic pain. What we’re seeing in Penticton is a lot of people who are using opioids are men between the ages of 25 and 45 who work in the trades,” said Meyers. “So part of that comes from the fact that they usually have an injury and have to go on medication and are trying to take that long road back.”

READ MORE: New role at Pathways to help navigate addictions recovery in Penticton

Meyers said the centre sees roughly the same number of female and male adults accessing its services, with more female youths than males coming forward to get help with substance addiction. She also commented that since cannabis legalization, the amount of youths seeking cannabis addiction help has “increased quite dramatically over a short time period.”

“We (help) a fair amount of people between the ages of 30 and 49, that’s our highest age group category. And when it comes to employment, one-third of the people are still working full-time,” said Meyers. “Alcohol is still our number one substance used by people, and same with the youth … opioids and heroin are lower down on (our) scale but that’s sometimes when we see more of them on the street, and that’s the same with crystal meth.”

Meyers also shared that “most overdoses happening in our city and in our province actually happen indoors,” rather than out on the street. She also said one of the biggest factors preventing people from seeking help is stigma, especially since treatment such as opioid replacement therapy is only available at public, high-visibility locations.

“What we’re seeing outside is the visible minority. But what we’re not seeing the invisible majority that is dying inside their houses,” said Meyers. “So we have to connect with the people that are using and so stigmatized that they’re staying in their houses or dwellings and not accessing services. And they don’t have (someone) there to save them with naloxone, where someone on the street has access to all kinds of other people that are saving them with naloxone.”

“We know that stigma is a huge issue — when people are afraid to get help and get well, they’re afraid to walk into different places. We know that housing is an issue as well, and the City of Penticton is doing a great job at addressing a lot of those housing issues so we’re happy about that,” said Meyers. “When we talk about stigma and the opioid process, the thing that we notice is that it’s very hard for people on opioids to go on opioid replacement therapy because it is a daily witness program. So you have to go to a local pharmacy every single day and you have to daily witness.”

Coun. Katie Robinson questioned whether the therapy could distributed by public health, and Meyers explained that a pharmacist has to distribute the drug as it has to be monitored.

“What’s missing in Penticton? We do not have a detox centre here, people have to go to Kelowna or Kamloops if they want to detox off drugs. We don’t have any residential treatment so they have to leave town if they want any in-patient treatment,” said Meyers. “We are very short on second-stage housing, supportive recovery transitional housing. So those are the things that keep people from staying clean. So they get out of treatment and return to the community and there’s very little places they can go to continue to receive service.”

“Pathways is here to foster the well-being of the whole person and their connected to self, family and the community when dealing with substance abuse and addictions,” said Pathways executive director Daryl Meyers. “All of the services we provide are out-patient treatment. So that means people do not have to leave the community and go to in-patient treatment.”

READ MORE: Pathways distributing life-saving Naloxone kits

The centre itself is facing challenges, with Meyers noting it only employees three staff to serve roughly 1,000 clients, 600 of which are new. She added that the centre is funded partially by Interior Health and has only seen a 16 per cent increase in 15 years while their clients have increased 120 per cent.

“So we’re back-peddling, we’re doing the best that we can with the little amount of money that we get. We’re always looking for new funding opportunities,” said Meyers. “And we’re always looking for innovative ways to help people that are out there, and any ideas that come to us that we could look for funding for to help the people of Penticton, that’s what we’re about.”

“The one concern I have is the fact that you’ve seen this dramatic increase in people in need of your services, and yet you have such a small increase in your budget,” said Coun. Jake Kimberley. “There’s not a recognition there with the problems being caused there. And we as council don’t have the authority to give you funds, because it’s a health care issue. But something has to be recognized by government in all municipalities, we’re not alone in this.”

Meyer said she received word that the centre’s intensive, coordinated-care opioid navigator program has been funded for an additional year, which is a step in the right direction.

READ MORE: Two Okanagan groups receiving grants to aid with overdose crisis

“This program has been running for a year, and that person works 24/7 with people who have opioid use disorders. So people looking to get off opioids, heroin, and others, they have access to this coordinator 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Meyer. “And working on a lot of other life skills – looking for housing, getting a job, doing basic shopping and those kinds of things.

Mayor John Vassilaki asked what council could do to help the centre get the other two levels of government, which he said “are really responsible for those matters,” to “participate better than they have in the past.”

“I think just whatever you can do to lobby them. The new ministry of mental health and substance use talks about meeting people where they’re at, but I am not sure that we’ve seen any of that happen in regards to new treatment centres and new detox centres in any of that,” said Meyers. “So being able to lobby on behalf of the city to help get more services here would be beneficial.”

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Jordyn Thomson | Reporter
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