How bad will it get? A father’s pleas for drug-addicted children across Canada


An Ottawa father of a teen girl who has struggled with drug addiction for more than two years says his daughter is finally in treatment, but he says too many families are struggling to get help for their kids.

Sean O’Leary made headlines in February, when he wrote an open letter about the struggle he has faced trying to keep his daughter Paige away from drugs.

In a lengthy Facebook post, O’Leary wrote of how, since his 16-year-old daughter started using drugs at parties, he has spent every night worrying about her.

He called on other parents living similar nightmares to come together to support each other and find ways to fight the drug crisis that he says is not just affecting those in seedy corners of the country’s biggest cities, but in suburbs across Canada.

“This issue or crisis is happening pretty much across our country,” he told CTV News Channel Monday from his home in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata.

“The question is how bad will it get before it peaks or before we can start turning this around.”

Since his Facebook letter went viral, O’Leary has continued to advocate for better drug treatment for teens like his, forming a group called “We The Parents” to fight for changes, including the chronic shortage of youth detox beds in hospitals.

O’Leary’s daughter knows she has a problem and when she is free from drugs, she supports her father’s advocacy efforts. But things change when she begins using again.

“At times, it’s been very good. But at other times, when she’s struggled, it’s not been good,” O’Leary said.

In his February letter, O’Leary wrote that he has spent thousands of dollars on psychologists and counselling for his daughter, but she continues to waver between periods of being clean and relapse.

In late June, O’Leary described on Facebook “12 nightmare days,” in which his daughter left the house and went on a binge of cocaine and other drugs. A trip to a local hospital ended in a a quick discharge, so he resorted to taking away his daughter’s phone and not allowing her to leave the house.

He said he “basically detoxed her without her permission,” until she found a hidden phone and called 911. Police informed O’Leary that, because Paige was 16, she was free to go where she chose – a situation that left O’Leary frustrated.

“The laws in place make it hard for parents to get help for their kids who don’t want the help,” he said. “It’s just very difficult.”

Shortly after O’Leary posted that letter, he learned that Paige had been accepted for long-term treatment at CHEO, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

O’Leary said he believes the fact that he runs “We The Parents” gave him leverage to get his daughter help.

“But even with that, it was so difficult,” he said. “…I think if I hadn’t had the media attention I had at that point, I don’t think I would have even gotten her in that day.”

Much more needs to be done to ensure that teens who need drug treatment get access to it, even when they are old enough to refuse treatment, O’Leary says.

“Substance use disorder is a chronic disease,” he said, with a relapse rate he estimates is close to 100 per cent.

“I mean, a lot of them try. Unfortunately, our system right now doesn’t give them a very easy path if they want to get better.”

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