Mother believes rehab centres are failing to meet needs
Bermuda’s rehabilitation centres aren’t meeting the needs of the Island’s drug users, says the mother of a young addict who died recently.
Lynn Spencer had no idea where to turn for help when she learned her son Christopher was addicted to heroin.
“He badly wanted to stop,” she said of her 25-year-old son, a former reporter with
The Mid-Ocean News and
The Royal Gazette.
“The most frustrating thing is to try to get information or help for drug addiction. Nobody even calls you back at the Government agencies.”
Her son had to wait a long time before he was accepted into the drug treatment centre Turning Point. Once there, she said she found there were few rules, little enforcement of those that existed and a lack of quality counselling.
“To get into Turning Point you have to go through BARC (Bermuda Assessment Referral Centre) and it can take as much as six weeks to get an appointment. I feel that when an addict is ready to come for treatment you have to take them right away. They cannot wait. It’s easy for them to change their mind and the danger of death from overdose is imminent,” she said.
“The first time we tried to get Chris into Turning Point, it was taking too long. We were able to send him to a rehab centre overseas. Three months later Turning Point called to say a spot had become available — that’s a long wait. What were we supposed to do in the interim?”
Once her son got into Turning Point, she was disappointed with the way it was run.
“There’s a disregarding, condescending attitude at Turning Point. Maybe they are overworked. You can never get to talk to anyone. They are always in a meeting and I never had calls returned within 24 hours,” she said.
Ms Spencer singled out Kevin Hayward, her son’s therapist at Turning Point, as “genuinely having his heart in 100 percent more than the others”.
“He is the only one who sent condolences when Chris died and he was helpful,” she said.
She said she was frustrated with the overall way she and her son were treated. Ms Spencer said a counsellor at another facility quietly told her that her difficulties may have been because her son was “white, well educated, and didn’t fit the profile of a heroin addict”.
She said if this were true, the behaviour was unprofessional.
However, she said the experience at the Men’s Treatment Centre in St George’s was even worse.
“There was nothing going on there,” she said. “It was just an excuse for Government to say we have a treatment centre. There were no strict rules. Anyone, including residents, could just walk in and out. Security didn’t patrol at all; they just sat inside at a desk.”
Ms Spencer said she would sit in her car in the parking lot hoping security would come and ask her to leave but they never did. She would pass bags of groceries through her son’s window — something she also hoped they would stop as it meant drugs could easily be brought into the facility, but they didn’t.
Reading from a journal her son kept while at the facility, it is clear that he was frustrated with the lack of help he was getting while he was there.
He wrote: “I am bored due to lack of physical and mental stimulation at the MTC. I am disappointed in the administration of MTC. They say they are doing one thing and are doing another; the lack of accountability and consistency. I am frustrated with MTC and myself.”
Ms Spencer found Caron Bermuda the most caring and helpful agency when she sought advice on what to do for her drug-addicted son.
“It was Caron who explained to me where he could go. They were really helpful to my sanity. They did try to help Chris but he wouldn’t take their advice. They were supportive of the whole family,” she said.
Still grieving the loss of her son, who died from a suspected drug-induced heart attack on October 27, Ms Spencer said she hoped that sharing her difficulties with the public will help rectify the inadequacies she found within the rehabilitation facilities.
“I want there to be real useful treatment services for those drug addicted in Bermuda,” she said.
Caregivers disagreed with Ms Spencer’s assessment of what took place in local clinics.
Joanne Dean, director of the Department for National Drug Control, said the Men’s Treatment Centre was never intended to be a secure facility.
“All clients have the right and the ability to leave whenever they choose; some leave against the advice of the treatment team,” she said.
She added: “There are policies and procedures in place at the Men’s Treatment Centre to control contraband from entering the facility. However as noted, sometimes persons choose to ignore the rules and sometimes succeed.”
The director countered Ms Spencer’s claim that the facility lacks an actual treatment programme.
“Clients participate in treatment groups and educational sessions daily and individual counselling sessions several times a week,” she said. “Most evenings, clients participate in recreational activities and relaxation. Workbook assignments are sometimes given by the client’s primary counsellor to address individual issues. All client activities are documented in each client’s file/progress notes daily.”
A Bermuda Hospitals Board spokeswoman said: “While BHB appreciates there may be a wait time for admission to Turning Point, the referral process for all substance abuse treatment agencies begins with BARC, which refers clients to the appropriate agency for services. Once someone is referred to Turning Point, he or she is evaluated during an intake assessment.
“In cases when a person meets our emergency admission criteria for the Inpatient Detox Unit, we proceed with initiating treatment and coordinate the BARC referral later. In some cases, a medical work-up is required in order to ensure treatment is initiated safely and in accordance with our accreditation guidelines.”
The hospital pointed out that Turning Point achieved a three-year international accreditation last year from the Council for the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.
In response, Ms Spencer said: “This all sounds well and good, but the reality is that a struggling addict is left using drugs for weeks, even months, while the process gets sorted out. To not have a facility, even the hospital, to show up at and be admitted instantly to administer detox safely is a hazard to society as well as to the individual addict, who can, and did, die waiting for acceptance into a detox programme overseas, as the option is not readily available in Bermuda.”
She added: “Drug education is imperative in our school system, and that is why the family has requested donations to PRIDE in Chris’ memory. Awareness can lead to abstinence, which is the safest form of prevention of drug abuse and addiction that can result.”
To contact the Department for National Drug Control, telephone 292-3049 or visit www.dndc.gov.bm. Contact Caron Bermuda on 236-0823. For more information on PRIDE, visit www.pridebermuda.bm.
Extracts from former journalist Christopher Spencer’s diary illustrate vividly the struggle he faced while addicted to heroin — and his frustration while staying at the Men’s Treatment Centre. His mother, Lynn Spencer, chose to make these extracts from the journal public, to highlight her concerns that addicts such as her son are being failed by the system in Bermuda:
“Really hate this. Prison-like, disorganised, and non-therapeutic. Constant fighting between clients and inconsistency from counsellors and staff. I spent the entire weekend watching television and eating terrible food. There is no soap to wash the dishes and we are forced to use a bar of body soap to clean them. While I am trying to stay positive and optimistic, I am having trouble putting my faith into this place. Sadly, I know more about drugs’ effect on the body than them.”
“Every morning is worse than the one before. This place is very depressing. I wake up every morning to cussing and yelling, arguments and quarrels. I have been here over a week now and have done nothing. I have nothing in common with these guys other than drug use. It seems all they can talk about is prison and drugs. I know more than my counsellor about nearly every subject one could imagine, the exception being football. I have not had a stimulating conversation since I have been here. At this point, I can see no benefit from being here other than being isolated from drugs. I want to change my life and stop doing drugs and I will.”
“There is no structure and every class or group quickly turns into a yelling match between clients. At least two of the clients do not belong here — period. They need more counselling and a more structured, productive, and therapeutic environment. I can tell already that I will not get what I need in this place.”
“What a terrible situation I have gotten myself into. While I am getting more comfortable here by the day, I hate it more and more by the second. This is pointless — being here. For my own well-being I need to leave here as soon as possible. I need to get on with my life in a positive, productive way. I want to work hard towards a good life. I am willing to do just about anything.”