The effectiveness of locking up addicted teens against their will appears to be successful, but more time is needed to evaluate the programs, say officials from the three Prairie provinces that offer the service.
Legislation on mandatory youth detoxification has been in effect in Alberta and Saskatchewan for more than a year, and for almost a year in Manitoba.
"Youth detox quicker than adults and so this isn't treatment, this is simply getting the drug out of their system and getting them somewhat stabilized in order to move on to another treatment," Lorri Carlson of Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region said Tuesday after a session at a national substance abuse conference.
The legislation came about mainly due to pressure from parents of teens who abused crystal methamphetamine and who felt they had no other way to get their children help.
"It was largely parent-driven," Beverly Mageau of Manitoba Health and Healthy Living told delegates.
Since Manitoba's program began last December, Mageau said only about three per cent of the 57 teens forced into detox have reported crystal methamphetamine use. In Saskatchewan, of the 142 teens that have been in the safe house, only 12 reported using crystal meth.
All three provincial programs have found the substances most abused by teens are marijuana, alcohol and crack cocaine.
"It was a big concern, everyone was concerned about crystal meth," Mageau said in an interview.
"We had a lot of discussions and a big crystal meth strategy and maybe that had something to do with it, I don't know, but the result now is crystal meth has not become the problem that was anticipated."
Susan McLean of the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission, which runs the safe houses for youth ordered into detox, agreed, saying the numbers for crystal meth are similar in Alberta.
Between July 2006, when Alberta started the program, to April 2007, 351 youth were ordered into safe houses, and 49 per cent continued treatment voluntarily after being let out.
McLean said further evaluation is needed to find out why the other 51 per cent did not want to voluntarily get further help for their addictions.
All three provincial programs target teens under 18. While the legislation is worded differently, all essentially allow parents and guardians to apply to the court to have their child assessed and ordered into secure detoxification for a specified period. Saskatchewan is the only jurisdiction to allow police to apply for the order.
In Alberta and Saskatchewan, it's up to five days, while in Manitoba it's seven days.
Saskatchewan can have more time to help teens because their certificates, or orders, can be renewed up to three times, for a total of 15 days," Carlson said.
"The longer that they're in youth detox, we find, the more willing they are to go voluntary treatment, so if we see some growth we actually can keep them a little longer."
Heather Clark of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse told delegates that they have found some obstacles to the programs.
They include community opposition to having a safe house in their neighbourhood; transporting youth to and from the safe houses; having enough addictions specialists to perform assessments; and high turnover of staff.
A health worker from Nova Scotia told people at the session the legislation is a great idea.
"When I first heard of this a year and a half ago, I cheered. I'm a parent, this makes total common sense to me as a parent," said Blair Gallant of Capital Health in Dartmouth.
"I wish I was in one of these three provinces, where I would have somewhere to turn. In the province I currently live in, I don't.
"My son would just run the streets, which is unfortunate, because a lot of people think he should just run the streets because he has rights," he said to laughter from the crowd.
Clark said all three provinces are collaborating to share information and to evaluate their programs so as to make it better.
"When these facilities first opened, there were a lot of questions, like, OK, does it work? Right now we actually need to learn about our target group, assess them and make sure we have the services in place before we start to ask those questions, and that takes time."
author: Mary Jo Laforest
source: The Canadian Press