Tanner Steffler Foundation aims to help county youth - Nov. 23, 2017
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
John and Heather Steffler, parents of Tanner Steffler who died as the result of a drug overdose earlier this year, are hoping to shine a light on the lack of resources for those embroiled in drug addiction in Huron County.
The Stefflers spoke to Huron County Council at its Nov. 15 committee of the whole meeting, asking that council back the foundation they established in the wake of their son’s overdose and its efforts to foster a better environment for youth in Huron County when it comes to drugs, addiction and mental health.
Heather read councillors a letter that the Tanner Steffler Foundation has been sending out to prospective donors. The letter tells Tanner’s story, saying that he was a handsome and intelligent teenager who was “full of life and potential” who longed to be an x-ray technician.
“Tanner was remarkably honest and shared his struggle with those he knew loved and cared about him,” Heather said. “In many ways, Tanner was a typical teen and could, at first glance, be anyone’s child. His story solidified for us that addiction and mental health can impact anyone’s child, no matter their colour, creed, income or status.”
While the loss of Tanner was both surprising and tragic, the Stefflers said that in the aftermath of Tanner’s death, they’re trying to do some good in the Huron County community when it comes to access to mental health and addiction services.
The pair said that their hope is to begin by providing access to education and health services, eventually building up to the construction of a facility in Huron County that would aid youth aged 12 – 24 who are in crisis.
“With less than 200 residential treatment beds available for the youth of Ontario, there is an urgent need to provide a facility where youth can attend school while receiving access to treatment, counselling and other health services,” she said. “The foundation recognizes the need for youth to have long-term treatment that is accessible, free and is a multi-faceted approach. The goal of the facility would be to heal the whole child through parallel treatment processes that support both the child and the family.”
They added that there are currently no treatment beds in Huron County.
Most addicts, Heather said, do not want to be addicts. However, due to limited resources, the services they need aren’t being made available to them.
“In Huron County, access to mental health and addiction resources for youth are limited at best,” she said. “Throughout Tanner’s struggle with substance use disorder, we know that he tried desperately to access support that would help him overcome his illness. Tanner didn’t want to be an addict; he wanted treatment and he wanted to be well.”
Heather said that she and the rest of her family did their best to help Tanner, but were continuously challenged by the lack of resources in Huron County and the surrounding area.
“Despite their best efforts, Tanner and his family could not access services that would support his treatment and full recovery in a timely manner. The medical system and outpatient services did not help Tanner, the school could not and the justice system does not,” she said. “The lack of appropriate services for Tanner and other youth like him is appalling. In the end, the ‘system’ failed Tanner and it cost him his life. Unfortunately, this is a story we hear far too often; youth do not have adequate access to mental health and addiction services in Huron County.”
John presented the foundation’s mission statement to councillors, saying it will be their goal to support Huron County youth aged 12 – 24 and create a culture for youth in the area to help them combat mental health, addiction and wellness concerns.
“We will educate parents, caregivers, community members and politicians through advocacy and presentations within the municipalities of Huron County,” he said. “We will work with the separate and public boards of education so that appropriate mental health and addiction specialists are able to work within each school on a full-time basis to support student needs.”
Furthermore, John said that the foundation hopes to engage a youth council that will provide voice and direction to support the needs of the youth. Then, the foundation hopes to establish concrete resources for youth who feel they may need them.
“We will create a website and mobile application specific to our youth that will provide local resources, media releases, education by way of videos, podcasts, blogs and online chats with trained mental health specialists,” he said. “We will build and sustain an evidence-based youth addiction treatment and mental health resource and wellness facility in Huron County for our youth and their families.”
As for the status of programming in Huron County, John said that further to the fact that there are no treatment beds in the area, the nearest communities aren’t equipped to handle Huron County youth in need either.
He said that one in five youth in Ontario will experience a mental health problem, but that five in six of those will not receive the treatment they need.
“Youth who seek help in Huron County are often sent to London, where they are put on long wait lists for services or turned away because it’s a postal code-driven service.”
John also cited further statistics that showed the need for further resources in Huron County. He said that 70 per cent of overdose deaths are related to prescription medication (not necessarily medication prescribed to the individual). Thirty per cent of deaths investigated by the Huron County OPP are related to overdoses and 25 per cent of those emergencies involve victims under the age of 20. In addition, four out of five 911 calls are related to mental health.
John said that because of Huron County’s spread-out population, compared to concentrated populations in city centres like Toronto, the county has to take care of its own children. It will never make financial sense for the province to install these services, so the county and individual citizens and businesses need to take the lead.
Huron OPP Detachment Commander Jason Younan was also part of the presentation, but said he was just there to support the Stefflers. However, he could confirm that the threat of drugs in rural communities such as Huron County is continuing to grow.
He said there have been obstacles and failures along the way, but that the more resources that are available to the youth of Huron County to help combat addiction, the better.
Central Huron Deputy-Mayor Dave Jewitt said that he felt this was an issue that demanded a “made-in-Huron” solution and he felt council needed to be involved.
Bluewater Mayor Tyler Hessel, who also represents the county with the Huron County Health Unit, said that the issue of drug addiction and mental health resources has been “very topical” with the Health Unit as of late.
Council directed staff to prepare a report and provide direction as to how council could get involved and help to step up the resources provided in the county.
More information on the Tanner Steffler Foundation can be found at tannerstefflerfoundation.com.