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[ Opinion ]

Objectionable Treatment Centres in Canada

There is a plethora of addiction/mental health treatment centres across Canada, many of them private. In Ontario anyone with a load of money and/or a desire to make more can open one as there is no regulations whatsoever and no plans in the near future to bring in any. This opens the playing field to a host of ne-er-do-wells who take advantage of the lack of regulation, preying on the misery and desperation of families suffering from the disease of addiction and/or mental health. Not only do these people prey on those needing help they also prey on those wanting to help the sick individuals.

Many of the people who open a treatment centre get it into because they have found recovery themselves. Unfortunately, as we say in Alcoholics Anonymous, if you sober up a horse thief you still have a horse thief. Or in this case if you sober up a scum-bag you still have a scum-bag. I’ve been in the field of addictions for over a decade now and have run into my fair share of unscrupulous people. Without naming names (as I’ve had to sign confidentiality agreements) let me share with you a few of my experiences.

There was one centre I had the displeasure to work for that seemed okay at the beginning. The front-line staff was great and even some of the on-site management. I began to see the perniciousness of the centre when I met the main owner. He made his money (prior to getting into the treatment business) by targeting the very people he now wanted to help with a string of payday loan outlets. Actually I wouldn’t say he wanted to help the ones who patronized those establishments as they wouldn’t be able to afford the addiction centre he had opened. This guy went after the whales of addiction – people who still had money or whose families did. I knew something was off with the guy when I first met him. He came to the centre in his high-priced car accompanies by his newly purchased pure-bred puppy. The puppy’s ears were a bleeding mess as the owner had just had them clipped. He mentioned that he had to return the puppy as it was sick. When I asked what would happen to the dog he shrugged it off giving a clear impression that he didn’t give a shit. As time went on myself and other staff realized that this guy didn’t not only didn’t give a shit about canines but didn’t care much for employees or those they were trying to help either. Problems soon arose with bounced bay cheques or none at all. At first staff was patient but when there was not even a sorry from this multi-mansion living owner we began to despair.

The centre owned by this Machiavellian of money-making didn’t have intake counsellors but sales people (a commonality of private centre in the province and across the nation). These sales people, posing as addiction experts, would say anything to get a client signed up for the $20,000 per/month treatment program. One of these hucksters was able to convince a disabled guy in a wheelchair to sign up for treatment, despite the fact that the facility was not accessible to someone in his condition. The guy was able to stick it out for three days before he came to his senses but that was all that was needed because after three days in the facility there was a no-money back clause in the treatment contract. I wish I could say this type of thing was isolated to this one centre but it is becoming a wide-spread epidemic amongst centres in Ontario and across Canada for that matter. Owners/CFOs/CEOs will often tell counsellors to try to makes sure a client stays in treatment at least to the no-money back clause kicks in.

I worked at this one place where families sent loved ones with extreme addiction/mental health issues to get help. Unfortunately for these people they weren’t properly assessed prior to coming to the centre and as a result staff was not properly informed of the issues the person was facing putting both them and clients’ safety in jeopardy. Again it seems the aura of green overshadowed the need to help. There were also very blurry lines between some clinical staff and clients. There was one counsellor who would take two individuals out for day passes when he was off-duty. There seemed to be no line between counsellor and client. There also appeared to be sets of rules that were enforced on regular clients but not on individuals who head clinical staff had a soft spot for. Treatment centres need to be client-centred but they also need to have a set of guidelines that must be adhered to or chaos ensues and no one is helped. For some reason I’ve seen these guidelines thrown by the wayside causing great havoc masked with veil of a therapeutic intervention.

At one centre clients facing therapeutic consequences for negative behaviours were able to plead to the owner to overrule clinical staff. The owner would do so, despite having no clinical training himself, thus throwing a whole stink on the therapeutic dynamic in the centre and undermining the authority of all. In my experience therapists often undermine the authority of addiction counsellors in much the same way but an owner doing this is, my in opinion, is much worse.

What can be done about this? The government must bring in regulation. A few organizations have been formed to try to bring a degree of professionalism but none are recognized by the province or the feds. When and if the government brings in regulations it needs to do so with input from experts in the field hailing from the many successful interventions, including 12 Step which government officials tend to be wary of – most likely because it has to do with a Higher Power which is not quantifiable.

Every so often I have friends and family asking for advice on places to send loved ones for addiction/mental health help. I have come to the conclusion that people should only be sent to institutions that have been around longer than 15 years. This isn’t the only criteria I tell them to look at but it is an important one