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'Young people are dying': Windsor addiction treatment centre concerned over critically long wait list

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As overdose rates and deaths across Canada skyrocket, addiction treatment centres like Brentwood Recovery Home in Windsor are overflowing with people trying to get help.

On Friday, Brentwood officials told CTV Windsor — it doesn’t have the resources needed to help everyone in time.

“The needs far outstrip the resources that we currently have in this sector,” said Elizabeth Dulmage, the executive director at Brentwood.

The recovery home on Dougall Avenue in Windsor, Ont., founded by Father Paul Charbonneau, has been helping people get sober for 60 years.

“It's about transforming lives and communities through recovery, hope, compassion, and that's really what we're about here,” said Dulmage.

Brentwood is facing a new set of challenges  — most of them financial and exacerbated by the pandemic.

The centre offers about 50 live-in treatment beds, but the wait list to get in has grown to 248 people.

“It's 248 people who need us, they need us now, they want us now, and we can't meet that need,” said Dulmage.

While Brentwood offers a variety of supports for people waiting and diverts a large portion of its fundraising efforts to after-care, Dulmage said where the people really need to be is admitted into the recovery home.

“That's what keeps me up at night,” said Dulmage. “Knowing that they're waiting, it's a source of stress for all of us.”

Battling addiction

Christy Soulliere knows what happens when some battling addiction seeks help, but is forced to wait.

“When an addict calls and says, ‘I'm ready,’ you’ve got to get them in,” she said. “You can't say, ‘Oh, hold on, wait two days,’ because by the time that two days comes, they've changed their mind.”

Soulliere said that’s what unfortunately happened to her son, Austin. He fought addiction for 12 years and was in-and-out of treatment more than a dozen times. 

One night, during a relapse, he took something laced with a lethal dose of fentanyl and died.

He was just 27 years old.

“Austin's relapse was one night. He had just taken his 30-day chip and it was one night,” said Soulliere. “And that's all it takes.”

He’s part of a growing statistic in Canada which has captured the number of annual overdose deaths. It’s more than doubled from 2019 to 2021 according to a recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The roadside sign to Brentwood Recovery Home in Windsor. April 19, 2024. (Rich Garton/CTV News Windsor).Dulmage agrees the face of addiction is changing. Sixty years ago, alcohol was the drug of choice.

People seeking treatment typically identify multiple drugs, said Dulmage, from crystal meth to opioids and cocaine. The true poison and killer is any of those substances laced with fentanyl.

“Sometimes clients will say to us, ‘Whatever I could afford and get my hands on,’” said Dulmage.

During a point-in-time check at Brentwood in January, 77 per cent of clients identified as homeless, which meant they required additional housing supports from staff.

Of those reporting to the centre — 50 per cent come in with mental health issues, Dulmage said.

“When things get messy, it really draws attention,” said Dulmage. “And people are dying. Young people are dying.” 

The centre has 43 provincially funded beds. The other beds, financed through the Brentwood Dream Home Lottery, are few in number because the recovery home is choosing to divert leftover funds to the area where major treatment gaps were identified in after-care assistance.

Dulmage is confident partners at Ontario Health will right-size funding for addiction beds across the sector over the next few years.

“We can't ignore this anymore,” she said.

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