The Boom of B.C. Addiction Treatment


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Image by: Nik West
Lorne Hildebrand runs Edgewood addiction treatment facility, in Nanaimo, B.C., a posh example of B.C.'s booming treament industry.

In a province famous for its drug culture – where marijuana is our 
top cash crop and where strung-out addicts are part of the modern 
Vancouver tableau – it should come as no surprise that there are more 
addiction treatment providers in B.C. than anywhere else in Canada. 
What is surprising: how little is known about these facilities 
and whether their treatments actually work

It could be a spa. Or a corporate retreat that emphasizes mindful reflection once the PowerPoints are done for the day.

The reception area at Edgewood is a tasteful blend of leather couches, copper-tinted flagstone flooring and customer-service-sensitive personnel behind the counter. Out front, people stroll along a gently winding covered walkway, paper coffee cups in hand, or pause in the small garden behind for a moment of tranquility, in spite of the faint roar of a highway nearby. 


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Inside, the gift shop is a cornucopia of artistic T-shirts and jewelry, stuffed animals and giant muffins. And the buzz of activity in the lobby next to it seems like a familiar morning preliminary from other realms, perhaps to another exciting day of “Achieving Better Sales in Office Supplies” or “Maximizing Infrastructure Projects for Your Region.”

Only the luxury pool appears to be missing.

Then the picture starts to come into more focus. The doors along the hallways open to rooms with plain single beds, two to a room, not luxury suites with 600-thread-count sheets on pillow-top king beds. The staff are not young kids schlepping suitcases and room-service trays but people in their 40s and 50s with the authoritative look of school principals. The sombre black plaque at the entrance to the building tolls the bell for “those alumni who have lost their lives to chemical dependency,” listing some 100 names, starting with “Bill G., Age 50” and ending at “Jeremy P., Age 31.”

And then there’s Andrew Singh (name and some details changed), who talks about his nine weeks here with evangelical fervour. 

“Now I’m so in touch with my higher power. I know somebody’s looking after me,” says Singh, a Bollywood-handsome 31-year-old whose well-off Prince George family is paying for a stay that is indefinite at this point. “There’s so many things this place has taught me. I used to think about tomorrow. Now I only think about today. I think about not having that hit today. It’s about accepting the things that happened in the past. If I dwell on it, I’m not going to have a chance to grow.”

Addiction Treatment: The Shadow Growth Industry

While it looks like one of the many resorts that dot Vancouver Island, Edgewood – a lodge-like building in a suburban/industrial cul-de-sac near Nanaimo’s Departure Bay ferry terminal – is, in fact, an addiction treatment centre. Andrew Singh is here on his second round of treatment in the past five years because of his problems with alcohol, cocaine and, occasionally, ecstasy. At the urging of both his wife and parents, he has taken indefinite leave from a shoe-store management job and spent two months going to group therapy, talking about what triggers him to use alcohol and drugs, learning that it’s a disease that he’ll always have and abiding by a routine of meetings and chores that’s meant to provide the structure for a new life forevermore. 

With 80 beds in its main facility, Edgewood provides services to as many as 500 clients a year, making it one of the province’s biggest treatment facilities. But it is just one small part of B.C.’s huge addiction treatment industry, a little-known growth industry that exists in the shadow of its publicity-hogging nasty big brother, the illegal-drug business. The industry defies easy analysis in much the same way as the illegal operations. Their results are, by and large, unverified. Standards and certification are variable. There is no unified approach to treatment. Indeed, there isn’t always agreement on exactly what treatment is. 


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