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Edmonton Addiction Treatment Center Denied by Province

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Though Alberta’s Child and Youth Advocate fears more children are dying from drug use, the province has rejected a request from its health authority to build a new youth-focused treatment center earlier this year.

In a request under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, CTV News Edmonton learned that Alberta Health had refused a request for funding to build and operate a new youth addiction treatment centre.

According to the documents, Alberta Health Services submitted a functional and infrastructure program application for the new center in Edmonton in June 2020.


AHS proposed to build a 3,000 square meter residential addiction treatment center which would house essential detoxification, assessment, counseling and rehabilitation services for youth aged 12-18.

Construction costs were estimated at $28–31 million, with personnel and operating costs to be calculated later if the project was selected.

In a major business case for the project, AHS noted that another youth addiction treatment center in Edmonton, the Yellowhead Youth Center, was to move from its current site by March 2022 to make way for a project by the Ministry of Children’s Services.

It is unclear if the government planned to reopen the Yellowhead Youth Center at another location or what it planned to do with the freed up space.

In a March letter to then-CEO Dr. Verna Yiu, Deputy Minister of Health Paul Wynnyk said the province was considering “other ways to deliver addiction and health services. mental health to Albertans”.

“I know that our teams are jointly exploring options for improving substance abuse and youth mental health services, so I look forward to their recommendations,” Wynnyk wrote.


In its latest budget, the province has allocated $55.1 million to the Yellowhead Youth Centre. The financial plan says the money, provided over three years, is part of a plan to “re-develop” the centre’s facilities. It is not known if these renovations have started.

CTV News Edmonton has contacted the deputy minister’s office for further comment.

“I AM VERY WORRIED”

Terri Pelton, the child and youth advocate, said she was not made aware of AHS’ request for funding to build a new treatment center in Edmonton, so she declined to comment on the rejection of the proposal by the government.

However, she believes the province needs a strategy to address youth overdoses.

According to Alberta Health’s Substance Use Surveillance System, 22 people aged 19 or younger died of drug overdoses in 2022, including two children under the age of four.

Since January 1, 2019 and July of this year, 384 Albertans under the age of 25 have died from opioid-related causes, according to Alberta Health data provided to CTV News Edmonton by the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate.

As of July 31 this year, 80 people under the age of 25 have died from opioid-related causes.

Pelton called youth drug poisoning a major concern, and she hopes the province will take “more action on this.”

“I can’t even express how concerned I am about this issue,” she said. “I am extremely worried.”

The last three reviews of child deaths by his office have all referenced substance use as a major concern.

In March, the provincial surveillance report investigating youth who died while in the care of children’s intervention services recommended that the government develop a strategy focused on opioid and substance abuse among young people.

In 2018, child and youth advocate Del Graff completed a survey of opioid use among youth in Alberta and came to a similar conclusion.

“The number of opioid poisonings among young people under the age of 24 is alarming”, the special report read. “It is imperative that we recognize the unique needs of young people. This issue requires immediate action.”

Pelton called for action to prevent fatal overdoses needed because it could help young people move away from drug addiction.

“Where we see the most deaths is between the ages of 15 and 24,” Pelton said. “So if you think about the brain development of a young person in that age range, the impact of drugs on their brain is different than an adult’s.

“There is an opportunity here to save lives and help young people succeed,” she added.

MEET YOUNG PEOPLE WHERE THEY NEED HELP

An ideal strategy, according to Pelton, would include the full spectrum of care: age-appropriate education for children in schools about drug use, more treatment options, increased access to harm reduction strategies and follow-up care after treatment.

“Today’s youth are tomorrow’s adults,” Pelton said. “So if we don’t do something sooner, we’re just going to continue to see both the number of adults increase and the number of young people increase.”

Pelton would also like all provincially funded treatment to offer services to young people as soon as they contact them, without conditions that make treatment conditional on sobriety or stable housing.

“(If there are conditions) before they can be admitted into a program, they are lost,” Pelton said. “It’s really about meeting them when and where they are ready to help.”

According to the lawyer, Alberta has yet to acknowledge her office’s recommendation in the mandatory review released last month.

This report was released just days before the province released a $187 million plan to address addictions and adult mental health issues.

“The government has been silent on our recommendations,” she added. “Historically, we have an answer within a day or two: either they accept them, or they accept them in principle, or they don’t.”

Eric Engler, chief of staff to the Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, said in a statement that children and youth struggling with addictions and mental health are one of the province’s “top priorities.”

He listed Alberta’s virtual opioid addiction program, addiction and mental health services available through AHS, Kids Help Phone and the youth recovery program at Hull Services and CASA House as programs supported by the province.

“This is just a small example of government-supported programs,” Engler said. “We suggest anyone looking for mental health and addictions treatment services contact 211.”


With files from Kyra Markov and Amanda Anderson of CTV News Edmonton