Who protects addicts in treatment?

If someone enters a private addiction treatment centre in Alberta today, there’s no guarantee the facility is actually capable of treating them.

If someone enters a private addiction treatment centre in Alberta today, there’s no guarantee the facility is actually capable of treating them.

No certification from anyone is required — neither government nor professional body — no required training, and no processes to go through. No standards have to be met.

The standards, policies and procedures are set by the private treatment centre.

Yet someone entering addiction treatment may be at one of his or her lowest, most vulnerable, most desperate, maybe even most dangerous, points in life.

For certain private sector services, like daycare and nursing homes, there are government standards, processes and licensing requirements. But when it comes to addictions treatment, often a matter of life and death, there’s nothing.

Such was the case for 17-year-old Taylor Argent of Red Deer, who while staying at a private addiction centre known then as the Central Alberta Recovery Centre, found antifreeze in an unlocked garage, drank it and subsequently died.

Taylor’s parents, Kim and Mike Argent, paid $9,700 to send him to the centre for a five-week program. He completed the program, but relapsed and returned for treatment on March 31, 2007.

The next day, early in the evening, Taylor was seen behaving oddly, stumbling, incoherent and disoriented. Staff and participants became aware of this.

As outlined in a judge’s fatality report released last month, the night shift staff member overseeing Taylor, other than meeting the criteria of having been in Alcoholics Anonymous and having first aid, “had no training or experience in drug or alcohol treatment.” He was also responsible for cleaning and mopping parts of the facility.

As Taylor deteriorated, a series of delays occurred before an ambulance was finally called. One of those delays involved staff deciding to leave an unresponsive Taylor on the floor of his room. Ambulance staff found him in the “deepest state of unconsciousness.” Taylor died in an Edmonton hospital on April 2. It was determined later that he had likely drank antifreeze in the late afternoon of the previous day.

Central Alberta Recovery Centre, now called Serenity Ranch, is located near Tees, about 40 km east of Lacombe. The centre opened in 2006.

Most staff had only first aid and had completed a 12-step program. One staff member had professional and personal experience helping people with addictions.

The fatality report stated: “The administrative policies and the tolerance policies were not followed or were followed so loosely they were useless. There was no fully trained staff on duty at nights that were qualified to deal with circumstances such as (Taylor’s).”

“There was no evidence that (Central Alberta Recovery Centre) policies or their facility were ever inspected by any outside agency of the government.”

The most alarming statement in the report is this: “Anyone can start up a treatment facility and operate the same without any standards or measure of the care the participants receive.”

God help the addicts.

The judge recommended the government set up minimum standards for care at these facilities and regularly license and inspect them.

In response to the report, the provincial government says a provincial mental health and addictions strategy, which will include the delivery of addiction treatment services, is due early next year.

We should all wonder why on Earth the province of Alberta didn’t have one in the first place?

Mary-Ann Barr is Advocate assistant city editor. She can be reached by email at barr@bprda.wpengine.com or by phone at 403-314-4332.