B.C.’s first detox and treatment services for Indigenous youth coming to Vancouver Island

Apr 10, 2024By Orca Lelum
Orca Lelum

Indigenous youth on Vancouver Island struggling with drug addiction will soon benefit from a first-of-its-kind treatment centre that will offer culturally relevant detox and treatment services. 

The Orca Lelum Youth Wellness Centre in Lantzville will be the first in the province to offer detox services, specifically for Indigenous youth. First Nations people in B.C. are almost six times more likely to die from illicit-drug poisoning than other people in the province. Access to culturally appropriate, Indigenous-led, mental-health and addictions treatment is something Indigenous people have been asking for, as a way to combat increased rates of relapse, overdoses and other related harms.

We are proud to offer a real solution in response to the devastating drug and mental-health crisis faced by our young people. 

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The centre is supported by a $171-million investment in Indigenous-led treatment, recovery and after-care services.

“The toxic-drug crisis is a tragedy, one that disproportionately affects Indigenous people,” said Premier David Eby. “Rooting treatment for addictions and mental-health issues in Indigenous knowledge has the power to transform a young person’s life. Orca Lelum Youth Wellness Centre will provide that support, and our government is proud to support such an innovative approach to help vulnerable youth.”

The centre will provide 20 substance-use treatment beds that offer culturally informed care to Indigenous people aged 12 to 18 years. Services will be available in phases, starting in June 2024, as more staff get hired and trained. The centre is expected to be operating at full capacity in fall 2024. 

Ten of the beds will be reserved for short-term detox and stabilization, while the other 10 beds will support young people with addiction services through a 10 week, holistic live-in and culture-based healing program. The centre will accept dropins and continuous intake for the detox program, while the treatment program will operate up to four times per year. Having both streams of services available at the same time provides the best level of support for people needing long-term and short-term care. In addition, specialized trauma and grief services will be provided during weeks when the addiction treatment program is not operating.

“We are proud to offer a real solution in response to the devastating drug and mental-health crisis faced by our young people," said Dr. Robina Thomas, board chair, Orca Lelum Society. "Drawing from the strengths of both worlds, mainstream wellness approaches are weaved with Indigenous ways of healing to create stronger outcomes. We believe in nurturing the whole person, integrating heart, mind, body and spirit to instil purpose and lasting connection beyond treatment.”

“Indigenous youth struggling with mental-health and addiction challenges often face barriers including racism and a lack of appropriate resources when it comes to accessing the care they need,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “Offering supports informed by Indigenous knowledge is key to supporting them on this journey, so they can feel safe and connected to their culture while they focus on their healing in the short and long term.”

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The youth centre will be managed by Orca Lelum Wellness Society and will employ at least 50 staff members, including medical staff, clinical counsellors, cultural workers, intake workers and wellness support staff. Orca Lelum Wellness Society is an Indigenous Child and Family Service Agency, established in 1994. The organization offers traditional approaches to healing and growth that empower children, youth and families on Vancouver Island.

“The support I received from a truly caring team helped me to start reconnecting with my culture and guided me toward my healing journey,” said Kaitlyn McMahon-White, a youth advocate with Orca Lelum. “What Orca Lelum is offering is more than a service; it's a pathway for our youth to feel empowered and connect to community, culture and the land. An experience that can help our youth on their wellness and healing journeys.” 

The centre is supported by a $171-million investment in Indigenous-led treatment, recovery and after-care services. Working with Indigenous communities to provide culturally appropriate services is a critical part of the Province’s efforts to expand access to mental-health and addictions care so that more people can get the care they need in their communities.

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