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How Canada’s Government Rehab Centres are Failing Addicts

Early intervention and access to addiction treatment services can literally mean life and death for many people struggling with substance abuse. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done for countless Canadians who cannot afford private addiction centres and whose lives are hanging by a thread given the long waiting list in government rehab centres.

The Biggest Issue with Government Rehab Centres

Long wait times are a common concern when talking about Canada’s health-care system. From knee and hip replacements to cataract surgeries, Canadians have to get in line and patiently go through the process to receive proper medical care if they cannot pay out of pocket. Every year, data shows that wait times worsen

The same is true for individuals hoping to address the root cause of their addiction by seeking addiction treatment services. In an article published in 2016, VICE News researched the average waiting time for opioid users seeking refuge in government rehab centres across the country. Here are their findings:

  • Alberta – 17 days
  • British Columbia – 18 days 
  • Newfoundland and Labrador – 18 days
  • Nova Scotia – 19.7 days
  • Saskatchewan – 25 days
  • Ontario – 42.3 days
  • Manitoba – 52 days 
  • Quebec, New Brunswick and Nunavut – does not track
  • P.E.I and Yukon – would not provide
  • Northwest Territories – no facilities

The federal government does not manage health care in Canada, therefore, no standard tracking system is currently implemented to accurately monitor wait times per province or territory. Equally problematic, the Northwest Territories has no in-patient facilities that treat addiction and refers people with opioid addictions to Alberta or British Columbia.

Nevertheless, the numbers you see above are mere estimates. In reality, many people’s wait times can go on for much longer, especially if they are seeking specific addiction treatment services, say, for dual diagnosis of mental health illness or an underlying medical condition. A CBC article revealed that most addiction treatment facilities offer limited beds for individuals taking prescription medications because it requires more trips to the pharmacy and a different level of care.

Man in hooded jacket sitting on the street at night.

Prioritizing Minorities: First Nations First

Alcohol abuse and drug addiction are a particular concern to First Nations and indigineous communities. Studies show that:

  • At least 25% said they have a personal problem with alcohol use 
  • First Nations males are admitted for substance use more often than non-aboriginal residents, based on British Columbia and Alberta’s hospital records
  • Cannabis use is common among First Nations adults (27%) and youth (32%)
  • Indigineous youth are at extreme risk with the highest global suicide rates – 11 times the national average

Health Canada prioritizes funding for institutions addressing addiction among Indigineous communities. There are approximately 43 federally-funded government rehab centres across the country. At this time, the ministry does not monitor how long people have to wait to get admitted nor how many get referred to other provinces when the local centres are at maximum capacity.

Young Addicts at Risk

Young people aged 15 to 24 are at the highest risk of developing mental illness or substance use disorders than other age groups. Ideally, these young addicts, specifically those already in the justice system, should be entitled to easy access to addiction treatment services in government rehab centres. However, the wait times for a slot in a youth residential treatment can still range between two to six weeks.

CBC’s article discovered that a promise was made during the 2016 election to create another 500 addiction treatment spaces in B.C. by 2017. As the number of young people dying rose due to fentanyl overdose, the number of beds seemed to decrease. A document obtained by the NDP through a freedom of information request showed only 89 “youth substance use” beds are available throughout the province.

A group of young people smoking

Why Is the Wait Time So Long?

There’s no way of finding out when a slot becomes available in government rehab centres. Families with loved ones battling with substance abuse disorders often have to call several addiction treatment facilities across the country every day to check if a spot has become available. Timing is everything. There are a scarce amount of beds to accommodate everyone under the public health care system. Those who can’t financially afford private addiction centres helplessly wait for the day somebody quits or successfully recovers and graduates from the program to get their chance for treatment. 

Several external factors can potentially be contributing to the exceptionally long wait times Canadians have to endure before getting admitted into government rehab centres:

The Opioid Epidemic

The opioid crisis in Canada has put a significant emphasis on the pressing need for addiction treatment services in government rehab centres. Since 2016, there have been over 9,000 opioid-related deaths. In 2017, approximately 11 people died every day because of an opioid overdose. While the country is grappling with the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic, opioid addiction and overdose continues, further choking an already-overwhelmed public health care service. 

Insufficient Funding

Despite billions of dollars being allocated to health care services, only a minuscule fraction (7%) of this is portioned out for mental health disorders (which is shared with addiction treatment services). Sadly, the chances of seeing this scenario significantly improving are slim, as the Mental Health Strategy for Canada suggests only raising the proportion of health spending for mental health to 9% by 2022.

Choosing Freedom from Addiction

While our health-care services have its merits – prioritizing the basis of need rather than the ability to pay – it does have its downfalls. Drug overdose is prevalent in Canada and not slowing down. Many addicts are desperately seeking help but are being ushered to unrealistic waitlists for government rehab centres – and in that time, relapsing.

Don’t put yours or your loved one’s life on the line. For the next 12 months, Freedom From Addiction is offering free treatment and rehabilitation services for COVID-19 frontliners. We provide a wide range of addiction treatment services to help start your journey towards healing and recovery. For more information, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.


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