October 23, 2018

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Addictions treatment raises alarm

Methods that may be used at Oake centre rejected by Canadian medical experts

In his fight to make good on the dream of an addictions treatment centre to honour his son’s memory, Scott Oake has repeatedly talked about bringing what he calls the “gold standard” in healing and recovery to Winnipeg.

But the facility, now cleared to take shape at the old Vimy Arena, has been linked to a company with a track record that is anything but golden.

The Free Press has learned Calgary-based Fresh Start Recovery Centre, which will be the model for the Winnipeg facility built in honour of Bruce Oake, who died of a heroin overdose, has close ties to a foundation known to promote alternative health treatments rejected by most mainstream medical experts.

Fresh Start will manage the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre, roll out its program, hire staff and secure community partners. However, despite Fresh Start’s high success rate, serious concerns have been raised by medical experts about one of its key community partners: Pure North S’Energy Foundation.

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In his fight to make good on the dream of an addictions treatment centre to honour his son’s memory, Scott Oake has repeatedly talked about bringing what he calls the "gold standard" in healing and recovery to Winnipeg.

But the facility, now cleared to take shape at the old Vimy Arena, has been linked to a company with a track record that is anything but golden.

The Free Press has learned Calgary-based Fresh Start Recovery Centre, which will be the model for the Winnipeg facility built in honour of Bruce Oake, who died of a heroin overdose, has close ties to a foundation known to promote alternative health treatments rejected by most mainstream medical experts.

Fresh Start will manage the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre, roll out its program, hire staff and secure community partners. However, despite Fresh Start’s high success rate, serious concerns have been raised by medical experts about one of its key community partners: Pure North S’Energy Foundation.

Since 2011, Pure North has operated a clinic out of the first floor of Fresh Start, offering free, voluntary treatment for residents, according to the centre’s annual reports.

Those treatments appear to include: doses of vitamin D above Health Canada’s recommended intake; the removal of amalgam dental fillings and heavy metal reduction through chelation therapy. Health Canada has classified chelation therapy, except as a treatment for lead poisoning, as controversial and unproven.

Concerns have been raised by many in the medical community about the scientific backing of Pure North’s health claims and practices. Dr. James Talbot, Alberta’s former chief medical officer of health, said treatments provided by Pure North essentially amount to medical research.

"Significant parts of what (Pure North’s) talking about are not accepted medical practice. As a consequence, it falls under the category of research," said Talbot, who currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Alberta’s school of public health.

<p>The Oake family, headed by Bruce’s father Scott (right), hopes the new facility will save others from the pain of losing a loved one.</p>

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

The Oake family, headed by Bruce’s father Scott (right), hopes the new facility will save others from the pain of losing a loved one.

An independent review on behalf of Alberta Health found no independent research pertaining to Pure North’s use of vitamin D and concluded there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support the claims of its "preventative-health" program.

In addition, the Dietitians of Canada, long-standing critics of Pure North, wrote to former federal health minister Rona Ambrose in 2015, to raise concerns about what it called the "cherry-picked" evidence used by non-profits to support the promotion of vitamin D doses high enough to potentially pose health risks.

Bruce Holstead, Fresh Start’s director of operations, told the Free Press they had "no concerns" with the voluntary treatment offered by Pure North to its residents.

He stressed Pure North had not been approached to serve as a community partner in Winnipeg, but added Fresh Start staff would look to secure organizations capable of providing the same services and level of care offered at the Calgary facility.

In an initial response, Pure North said there had been no discussion with Fresh Start about becoming a community partner at the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre. Pure North declined an opportunity to respond to a followup request seeking comment on the criticism of its practices, citing an ongoing court case in Alberta.

The proposed Bruce Oake rehab centre took a step closer to materializing after city council voted Thursday to approve the $1 sale of the shuttered Vimy Arena and its parking lot to Manitoba Housing, which — in turn — plans to lease it to the Oake family’s foundation.

The Oakes, headed by longtime Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster Scott Oake, hope the $14-million, 50-bed, long-term addictions facility for men will save others from the pain they’ve lived with since Bruce’s death seven years ago.

The site’s location sparked vocal opposition from neighbourhood residents, but less attention has been given to the facility’s proposed model.

“Significant parts of what (Pure North’s) talking about are not accepted medical practice. As a consequence, it falls under the category of research.” – Dr. James Talbot, adjunct professor at the University of Alberta’s school of public health.

The Oakes have indicated they’ll rely heavily on the addictions expertise offered by Fresh Start and its executive director, Stacey Petersen. Petersen currently appears to be the only addictions specialist on the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre’s board of directors.

In an interview with the Free Press, Scott Oake said the family will look to run their centre "as close as possible" to Fresh Start — adding it will essentially be the same program, just in Winnipeg. The Oakes have specifically touted the facility’s high success rate — about 55 per cent — and dedication to long-term recovery. Clients live at the facility for 12 to 16 weeks, but can stay involved for months, if not years, after graduating the program.

Scott Oake initially told the Free Press he would look into Pure North and the treatments it offers Fresh Start residents. A day later, he indicated he changed his mind since there hadn’t been talks to bring it on as a community partner in Winnipeg.

However, Fresh Start’s annual reports make clear it considers Pure North vital to the success of its program.

"The Pure North program is voluntary and offers life-altering vitamin and mineral supplements, heavy metal reduction, replacement of dental amalgam fillings that contain mercury, and in some severe cases, even teeth replacement," states Fresh Start’s 2016 annual report.

According to its 2015 report: "This Pure North health program, provided to our residents at no charge... we believe that their work has helped us improve the number of people who go on to celebrate their first full year of recovery and then their second and so on."

<p>Fresh Start Recovery Centre in Calgary will be the model for the Winnipeg treatment facility built in honour of Bruce Oake.</p>

GOOGLE STREET VIEW

Fresh Start Recovery Centre in Calgary will be the model for the Winnipeg treatment facility built in honour of Bruce Oake.

The Alberta government abruptly cut funding to the controversial private health foundation last year, after learning alternative medical treatments were being offered out of its provincially funded clinic.

Pure North — which publicly denounced the funding cut, calling it politically motivated — has at least five locations in Alberta and British Columbia.

In addition to Alberta Health, Talbot and the Dietitians of Canada, Health Canada has also gone on record contradicting claims made by Pure North.

In a 2015 press release, Health Canada specifically denied public claims made by Pure North, and said there was no health benefit associated with vitamin D intake above its recommended dose.

In fact, it specifically advised Canadians not to exceed the "safe tolerable upper intake level," citing possible adverse side-effects.

When asked about the practice of removing amalgam fillings based on the belief they can potentially release dangerous amounts of mercury into the body, Dr. Katherine Dale, president of the Manitoba Dental Association said, "I’m not aware of any scientific material that would support that position."

Given that many of its health claims fall outside accepted medical practice, the guidelines and ethical concerns that govern medical research should be in effect for Pure North, Talbot said.

"When it comes to research, there are certain things that need to be in place before that work goes forward. The research needs to be submitted for peer review by a group of experts. That’s to make sure what is done is scientifically valid," he said.

"The second thing that needs to be in place is ethics approval. People who are part of the study need to be aware that it is research and give consent in a free and informed manner."

 

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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