Drug detox programs shut down

Addiction detox services in the HRM are closed all of July, leaving hundreds of addicts with no support, and no help

Locked detox Don't try to get off drugs this month. The addiction program in Dartmouth is closed for July.

Local addiction detox programs are closed for the entire month of July, leaving hundreds of addicts with no immediate place to turn.

"The choice wasn't ours," says Tom Payette, director for district addiction and treatment services for Capital Health, which operates the only detox programs in HRM, at Nova Scotia Hospital in Dartmouth. "Capital Health made the decision that this building needed decommissioning, so we had to shut down our operations."

Detox programs were conducted in the deteriorating Simpson Hall building on the hospital campus. They'll re-open in August in the nearby Purdy Hall, which likewise is set to be torn down.

"Ideally, we'd have a permanent home built for functional programming, designed for our needs," says Payette, expressing frustration for the move to another sub-standard building. "I've been here 25 years, and we've had six different buildings torn down."

About 200 people each month request detox services, says Payette. "We can only handle 85 to 100 of those."

The now-closed in-patient facility consisted of 15 beds. Clients were admitted "just long enough to make it medically safe for the person in the withdrawal process," explains Payette.

Alcohol withdrawal might take five days, cocaine withdrawal seven to nine days and opiate withdrawal up to 12 days.

Because the in-patient program couldn't meet the demand for services, addiction and treatment services has been offering a "day detox," where an addict can come in for about an hour each day, get medically checked and given whatever detoxification drugs are necessary. The day program is geared towards those with long-term withdrawal issues (withdrawal from valium can take up to six months) and those who have competing time demands---Payette mentions mothers with child care demands and people holding down jobs as examples.

Both the overnight in-patient program and the day detox are closed for the month.

"It means people are in a difficult situation," says Payette.

Addicts can call 424--8866 to arrange treatment at one of the seven other detox sites in the province---in Lunenburg, Yarmouth, Middleton, Pictou, Springhill, Sydney and Richmond---but Payette admits that may not often be practical. Those facing immediate medical situations should go to the closest emergency room, he says.

Asked why the move from one building to another couldn't be seamless, made without cutting services, Payette says it was scheduled for July, the month with the fewest requests for treatment, and that he'd prefer to have "just one major disruption instead of a bunch of little ones."

The move will take two weeks, as equipment and supplies are removed and reinstalled. Payette is using the closure to take an additional two weeks for staff certification upgrades. Besides the annual renewals in certifications in life saving, suicide prevention and the like, many employees will be trained in auricular acupuncture---placing five needles in each ear.

"We already do over 1,000 treatments a month," Payette says of auricular acupuncture. " go through relaxation exercises while receiving it, and it helps with withdrawal." By making the procedure more readily available, more addicts will be encouraged to come to the clinic, he says.

At the same time, addiction services are moving to a broader, community-wide model of addiction treatment imported from Britain that hopes to head off addiction before people need detox services.

The new system will have both a Dartmouth and a Halifax "community team" that works with people as they're developing addictions.

"I can tell you that all the money we've been given, we're still only dealing with 10 percent of the people out there that have a problem," says Payette.

"Therefore, it's not having an impact on the prevalence of substance abuse harms done in the community. We're just Band-Aiding things. We need to rethink the way we're delivering services, so that we have an impact on people who are starting to show signs, so they don't progress to a point where they need medical services."

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