These parents say jail is the safest place for their son, after B.C.'s addiction treatment system failed him

·4 min read

Earlier this fall, Sheena and Mark Eraut stood in front of a judge in a Victoria, B.C., courtroom and asked that their son be kept in jail.

The Erauts, who live in Saanich, B.C., have been fighting for nine years to get help for their son Lochlan, who is addicted to fentanyl and suffers from ADHD and the after-effects of a brain tumour.

But with no treatment that has worked, no mental health supports, and no available housing for their son, the parents have concluded jail is the safest place for him.

The Erauts are one of many B.C. families struggling to find adequate treatment for their addicted children — a place that won't kick out addicts after a relapse and will work with them for longer than a couple of months to keep them safe and healthy.

"Mark and I, we're capable, competent adults and we are so frustrated and so exhausted from this system," said Sheena Eraut, who is no longer married to Mark. "It has been incredibly traumatic and totally soul destroying."

A boy who loved animals

As a kid growing up in Saanich, Lochlan raised ducks and chickens. One time he brought home an orphaned baby deer to care for.

When he was 15, he had his first grand mal seizure. A few months later, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour in the frontal lobe of his brain — the part that controls impulse control and judgment. A five-hour surgery and 55 stitches later, the tumour was gone. Lochlan appeared physically fine, but psychologically he was changed.

Submitted by Sheena Eraut
Submitted by Sheena Eraut

He struggled to sleep and began to self-medicate with marijuana. Then he moved on to cocaine, crystal meth, and heroin. By age 18, his parents suspected he was selling small amounts of drugs. By 19, he'd been arrested.

Lochlan is now 24, addicted to fentanyl, and has racked up a series of charges for what his parents call "survival crimes." This summer he told his parents he hopes he dies.

In and out of treatment centres

Lochlan has tried a few stints at voluntary, abstinence-based treatment centres, which have zero tolerance for relapse. Each time, it's failed for reasons that are frustrating to the Erauts.

At one, Mark Eraut drove across the province to drop off his son, only to hear a staff person tell Lochlan he wouldn't last a week. Lochlan left days later, saying he was treated poorly.

Another time, several days after detoxing, Lochlan was taken to a sober event and given the responsibility of watching the front door, where someone gave or sold him some heroin. He got caught, and was found later in an alley off East Hastings Street.

Mark Eraut believes the treatment centres are "churning [their clients] out."

"It doesn't set them up for success," he said. "It sets them up to actually be repeat clients."

Submitted by Sheena Eraut
Submitted by Sheena Eraut

Each time, before starting treatment, Lochlan goes through a painful detox period, often locked away in a motel under the care of his dad.

And each time treatment fails, Lochlan returns to the homeless camps, parks, and streets of Vancouver and Victoria. His dad then goes walking and driving, looking for Lochlan's tent to make sure his boy is still alive.

In their election platform this fall, the B.C. NDP committed to building new treatment, recovery, and detox facilities, with some specifically for people under 24. It also committed to building complex care housing.

Outgoing Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy said in an interview that Lochlan's experience illustrates the wide range of stories of how people come to struggle with addiction, and the complexity of providing treatment.

Darcy pulled back on Bill 22 — which would change the B.C. Mental Health Act to allow youth to be involuntarily hospitalized for a week after they overdose — after it was criticized by legal and youth advocates who said it would do more harm than good.

"There were parents who were saying it didn't go far enough ... and there were people who believe it was an improper use of the Mental Health Act," Darcy said. "So that remains a very, very controversial issue and one that the next minister and the next government will have to continue to grapple with."

In a broken system, jail is the best option

The longest drug-free window for Lochlan in the past six years happened in jail.

Three months into his stay, he started working to finish Grade 12 English. He was seeming more like the old Lochlan.

But when he was released after five months, there was no housing, no mental health or psychiatric support, and no addiction treatment to help him to continue to heal and begin to rebuild a life.

Without those supports, Lochlan relapsed and ended up back in jail, where his parents feel he's safest.

So for now, in a year when more than 1,200 British Columbians have died so far from drug overdoses, Lochlan waits in jail, spitting mad at his parents, as they try to figure out a plan.

"As parents, if your kid was putting a gun to his head many times a day and playing Russian roulette, wouldn't we want to intervene?" said Sheena Eraut. "That fix — is that going to be the one that kills them?"