Local family wants more done to help those struggling with addiction

By Leah Murray
June 13, 2017 - 5:46pm Updated: June 14, 2017 - 9:36am


MEDICINE HAT, AB — A Medicine Hat family is speaking out about the need for greater support after their son and brother lost his battle with the disease of addiction.

On January 1st of this year Shane Westgarth died from an overdose of drugs and alcohol.

“I was awoken by the doorbell and I went out and there were two police officers standing on the front step,” Shane’s father Bob Westgarth describing how he was notified his son had died.

“Nobody chooses the life of an addict, nobody does,” said Shane's sister Megan Westgarth. “Nobody chooses to live on the street, nobody chooses to ingest and be dependent on a substance.”

The family says Shane struggled with addiction for many years. He sought treatment several times and the longest he was sober was 100 days.

The last time Shane reached out for help was in the summer of 2016.

He went to the Medicine Hat Detox and Recovery Centre, but his family said he was turned away from treatment there.

“[Shane] was denied based on the fact that he has seizures, which most alcoholics have when their withdrawing,” said his sister. “He was told that they are not a medical detox and they told him there was going to be a three-week waiting period.”

Shane was bounced back and forth between the hospital and the detox centre until he was finally admitted to the hospital for detox.

Debbie Vass with Alberta Health Services say patients who have serious medical conditions often can’t be admitted to the Detox Centre.

She said the facility has limitations when it comes to acute care and if someone has seizures, like Shane, it can require more medical care than they can provide.

“If someone has a very complex disorder, we cannot put them at risk. We need to ensure they are safely treated,” said Vass.

After detoxing, Shane wanted to attend a residential treatment program, but his family said he was released from the hospital without being connected to a program.

AHS said there’s currently a three week waiting list for in-patient recovery programs across the province. Part of that is to give people time to get their affairs in order before going in for treatment.

Vass said they try to connect patients to outside services and counselling so they don’t fall through the cracks while waiting.

But for the Westgarth family, they believe the system didn’t work for Shane and the lack of assistance ultimately led to his death.

“The system definitely failed Shane and it’s failing so many others,” said Megan.

Shane's father said their family wants to see the province add more spaces for detox and recovery so more lives aren't lost to addiction.

“(Until) that money is there to make these things happen, it's just going to continue,” said Bob.

Bob is now working with AHS and several other community members to form a drug coalition here in Medicine Hat to tackle issues around addictions.

He said his involvement is about making sure the loss of his son didn't happen in vain.

Megan said she also plans to get involved in the coalition once it’s up and running to help others struggling with addiction.

“You want to be able to do something to help other people so this doesn’t happen again,” she said. “If you just help one person then you feel like you’ve done your job.”

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