Huge demand on addiction services leaves teens waiting for treatment

John McCaughtry started Silas House after he saw a need for alcohol and drug services in the community.
Martin De Ruyter/Fairfax NZ

John McCaughtry started Silas House after he saw a need for alcohol and drug services in the community.

Some teenagers in the top of the south with substance abuse problems are having to wait more than three weeks to receive treatment for addictions. 

In 2016, 79 teenagers received treatment for alcohol and drug addiction in Nelson Marlborough. More than 20 of those patients had to wait more than three weeks to be seen. The median wait time was seven days. 

The Ministry of Health's expectation is that 80 per cent of people are seen within three weeks of referral, and 95 per cent within eight weeks.

While methamphetamine use is increasing in Nelson, alcohol abuse remains the biggest problem for adults and teenagers.
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While methamphetamine use is increasing in Nelson, alcohol abuse remains the biggest problem for adults and teenagers.

In Nelson Marlborough last year 74.7 per cent of teenagers were seen within three weeks, and 93.7 per cent within eight weeks.

But 6.3 per cent, or five patients, had to wait more than eight weeks for addiction treatment.

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Addiction counsellor John McCaughtry said he had noticed a growth in substance abuse in the Nelson region and had started a social detox and addiction education facility to meet the demand. He did not deal with teenagers but had been contacted by organisations wanting the same help he offered for young people.

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services manager Eileen Varley​ said while there was ongoing demand for addiction services, the team would do what it could to see those who needed urgent treatment as soon as possible.

"If you rang and said; 'Hey I have got a daughter who has got a methamphetamine problem and she is really acting out', we would do our best to see you and your daughter straight away."

Varley said people who made an appointment but didn't attend or could not be contacted put stress on the waiting list. 

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While there were many reasons people didn't attend appointments, she said one of the barriers was the fear of disclosing their use of an illegal substance. 

People were often wary of having such detail on their record, but Varley said health information remained confidential. 

It was also important people realised that there was no "quick fix" for addiction.

"At your first assessment, it mightn't be that you stop straight away, it is the whole process of getting people to cut back. 

"Sometimes it takes three or four goes to stop, it is a process that they go through."

While there was a growing number of presentations for methamphetamine use, Varley said alcohol remained the biggest problem for both teenagers and adults in the region.

The addictions team would do a comprehensive assessment to find out what was behind the addiction. It also worked with non-government organisations to deliver treatment and the youth alcohol and drug team worked with guidance counsellors and students in schools.

McCaughtry said there was a "critical" need for drug and alcohol treatment in Nelson.

Silas House, a not-for-profit organisation focused on providing addiction treatment, offers an eight-week education programme, as well as programmes after work and during the weekend which were aimed at giving addicts the tools they needed to stay clean.

He said there was "huge demand" for addiction treatment services. 

One school had told him it was struggling to find support services for students and he was currently in discussions with them about what he could do to help. 

"I've heard that is the worst it has ever been in this town, we've got to do something about it."

"I'm not surprised because when they see the parents doing it, the next generation does it."

McCaughtry said he was adamant that if the programme got too big, he would run a second class to avoid having a waiting list.

"I don't think waiting is doing any good, it is the waiting that makes things linger.

"It grows and just becomes a bigger problem."

 - Stuff

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