“28-day programs failed to save my daughter”


This is part of a story by Betty Ann Adam published by The StarPhoenix (Saskatchewan) July 5, 2012

Carla Fenton Katchmar is making funeral arrangements for her 17-year-old daughter, Chantaey Katchmar, who died in Edmonton on July 1, after she and four young adults became ill from taking an unknown drug.

The mother of a teen who died from a drug overdose is frustrated with rules that prevent parents from enforcing drug treatment and with addictions programs that she says are not long enough to rescue a life sliding into the abyss.

Carla Fenton Katchmar is busy this week preparing to bury her 17-year-old daughter, Chantaey Katchmar, who died in Edmonton on July 1, after she and four young adults became ill after taking an unknown drug.

After Friday’s funeral, Fenton Katchmar intends to reach out to Premier Brad Wall and Prime Minister Stephen Harper to demand more effective help for young people with addictions.

Chantaey started using drugs in her early teens. She became addicted and resisted treatment, lashing out at many of the people who tried to help her, including teachers, social workers, foster parents and group home operators, Fenton Katchmar says.

Despite that fierce exterior, Fenton Katchmar could see still her “loving, funny, strong-minded, compassionate,” daughter when she looked into Chantaey’s eyes.

The girl entered one-month-long addictions treatment programs six times but soon returned to drugs each time.

With them came run-ins with the law, arrests and court-ordered conditions upon release. Breaching curfews and other conditions resulted in more arrests and repeated release conditions.

Each court appearance added to the public cost and yet did little to alter the girl’s behaviour.

She was expelled from schools and kicked out of foster homes and group homes.

“They couldn’t handle her mouth,” her mother says.

Fenton Katchmar understands too well how hard it was to deal with Chantaey – she didn’t want her angry daughter exposing her younger siblings to her drug lifestyle either.

Once Chantaey turned 16, her parents didn’t have any legal right to make her take treatment or decide where she would live.

At 16, she had the freedom accorded adults but without the fully developed brain or maturity needed to make life-altering decisions, Fenton Katchmar said.

She says families like hers need help. She is convinced society needs to help young people who are making self-destructive choices.

The education system needs to help them stick with schooling even when they try to get themselves expelled, she said.

Social Services needs to help house and protect them. The justice system needs to do more than slap them on the wrist and free them to continue their bad habits. And the health system needs to provide drug treatment that lasts long enough for newly clean addicts to reintegrate into normal life, she says.

Fenton Katchmar would like to see three-to six-month-long programs with a year of intensive followup.

“These kids need to breathe and see what it’s like with no drugs. They need to find themselves as a person. What do you find in 28 days?

“Quit wasting everybody’s money on 28-day treatments.

“The government needs to step in and change the rules of what the parents have the right to do with their kids. I should have the right to lock my daughter into these treatments and give her that chance,” Fenton Katchmar said. Authorities said Chantaey needed to make the decision herself but Fenton Katchmar wonders how a mind clouded by drugs can make a correct decision.

“I look deep into her eyes and I see a little girl crying to get out but she’s so scared, she’s so addicted that she doesn’t know how. She doesn’t want to go through that pain of withdrawal.”

Even Chantaey once told her mom that kids like she was need a boot camp where they’d be required to follow rules and work hard while kicking their habits, Fenton Katchmar said.

Don Meikle, who works with youth at risk, agrees that 16 is a precarious age for youth who are engaging in dangerous behaviours.

Parents can sometimes obtain court orders to place their children in protective custody for five to 15 days but after that, 16-year-olds can make their own choices. While Meikle agrees 15 days often isn’t enough to make the fundamental changes needed to alter a life overtaken by addiction, he is reluctant to endorse changes that deprive people of their liberty and which are open to abuse by those who would simply warehouse them.

“They’re seen as adults when they’re 16 when they’re really not. It takes away a parent’s ability or right to demand what they see as right for their child,” Meikle said.

“It’s a balancing act. As a society we have to ask, is 16 the appropriate age?”