**Names in this story have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.
To save her son’s life, Claire Madre is planning to pack up her family this fall and move from Kelowna.
“I don’t think I have any choice,” she said, explaining that she believes a B.C. law that protects her child’s privacy is actually putting him in harm’s way.
Alberta, on the other hand, has a law that will give her the power she needs to parent her son.
“Unless he turns things around by the end of summer, we will have to go,” she said.
“Even then I’m not sure this is the right place. The situation is dire in B.C.”
Madre’s 15 year-old son Peter has been working with health care workers and school administrations for the last six years in Kelowna dealing with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Although they tried to help him overcome his difficulties their efforts fell flat, and this year Peter descended into local drug culture.
Urine tests Madre cajoled him into taking in the last few months indicate he’s been on pot, cocaine, hallucinogens and opioids, possibly the likes of fentynal which has already taken a dozen local lives in the last six months according to the Coroner’s Office.
Online communications between her son and his friends that she’s peered into offer an even longer list of illicit substances.
“This drug problem really started this September when he reached high school,” Madre said.
“He started hanging out at (a local park) and started declining fast. He was skipping school and I was in non-stop contact with the high school principal and his teachers, who were telling me he was high in class.”
She eventually pulled him out of regular school. The administration’s multiple attempts to adjust classes so they would work for Peter failed and he still wasn’t going.
Peter then entered a less structured program, which also didn’t work.
“He’s just not obligated to attend school if he doesn’t want to…He can just say ‘I’m done’ and he doesn’t have to do anything,” said Madre.
“Since then it’s escalated to him not coming home for 12 to 14 hours at a time. I would call the cops, they would say there was nothing I could do.”
While police officers went to her home in an attempt to set him straight, she said her son wasn’t even marginally moved by the show.
She can’t confine him to her home, forbidding that he go out, as she would be in the wrong in the eyes of the law.
So Madre went to his new group of friends and told them to leave him alone—a request that also went unheeded.
“I can’t get him committed so he can detox because he would have to be suicidal, commit a crime or volunteer to be committed,” she said.
“I’ve tried everything, he’s not parent-able right now. He’s oppositional and defiant, and he can do whatever he wants because the laws work in his favour.”
That realization came after her pediatrician recommended she go to the B.C. Child & Youth Mental Health office to access their services for Peter’s problems.
When she spoke to workers, she said Peter had OCD, anxiety and addiction
“They said they could help with OCD and anxiety, not the concerns with addiction …I kept talking to them about it, but it was kind of ignored. There was nothing they could offer me,” she said.
The local Child and Youth mental health office wasn’t able to comment on the situation, but Madre said she’s experienced that kind of response a few times.
She believes it’s because most government agencies with the programs that could help her son are bound by the Infant Act.
“In B.C., your teenager has to be a willing participant to any treatment,” she said.
“There could be a thousand resources in your community, but if the teenager doesn’t want to access them, you can’t do anything.”
The Infant Act gives autonomy to young people who want to access medical treatments they may not want their parents be privy to.
It allows anyone under the age of 19 to consent to their own medical care if they’re capable.
Capability is measured simply by a young person understanding the need for medical treatment, what the treatment involves, the benefits and risks of getting the treatment and the benefits and risks of not getting the treatment.
“If the doctor or other health care provider explains these things and decides that the child understands them, the care provider can treat the child without permission from the parents or guardians,” reads a B.C. government webpage describing the act.
Children who are capable can normally get medical treatment without their parents’ or guardian’s consent for things like birth control, abortion, mental health problems, sexually transmitted diseases, or alcohol and drug addiction.
What’s galling to Madre is that a doctor or health care provider can’t talk to the parents or guardian about a capable child’s medical care unless the child agrees.
“Just as doctors must keep information about their adult patients confidential, they must also keep information about their child patients confidential, but there are some limits to this rule,” reads the government page.
“Some doctors insist on telling a child’s parent or guardian if they treat the child. If you’re a child and you want your doctor to keep your medical information confidential, it’s important to tell them that.”
The desire to move is simply a way to get around her son’s triggering of privacy measures—something she said he likely learned the power of from his peer group, which Madre said is well informed on how to protect their drug interests.
A local youth and mental health counsellor actually gave her the idea.
“He told me your best bet is to save him is to move to Alberta,” she said. “I said, ‘Pardon me?’ He said, ‘Now you know.’”
For the first time she realized she could do something.
“There’s a law in Alberta that can force them into getting treatment.”
It’s called the The Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Act (PChAD) and it took effect in Alberta on July 1, 2006, and was amended on July 1, 2012.
The law is aimed at helping children under 18 years of age whose use of alcohol or drugs is likely to cause significant psychological or physical harm to themselves or physical harm to others.
The PChAD program allows you, as a legal guardian, to ask the court for a protection order.
This order will mean a child can be taken to a protective safe house for up to 10 days, even if he/she does not want to go.
This 10 day period will provide the child with a structured and protective setting in which to begin detoxification, while providing parents an opportunity to get involved in the process.
The time spent in the protective safe house also allows counsellors a chance to assess a child’s substance use and offer treatment recommendations to follow once they have been discharged from the program.
“I have been through every resource available. But this may be the only thing I can do…People here don’t know,” she said, adding that she communicates with a network of moms who are in different stages of the same problem.
“Unless you have a troubled youth and are looking for resources you are living in a bubble. There is no help in B.C. unless your child wants it and the situation with drugs is dire.”
Watch for more stories on this issue in the Kelowna Capital News.