Their calls for change are being supported by the BC Centre on Substance Use, the Canadian Mental Health Association and the operator of an Ontario recovery high school — the only one in the country — though it’s closing down due to lack of funding.

Janice Walker’s son was 15 when he began using marijuana, mouthwash, ecstasy and any other drug he could get. She said he was kicked out of school and placed in an alternative education program that didn’t help before he became an entrenched drug user who overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl at age 25.

“We could have only dreamed of something like that,” she said of recovery high schools, about three dozen of which exist in various U.S. states.

“Schools like this are exactly what we need because we do need to stop living in shame and denial,” Walker said of rampant drug use among teens, who often start by experimenting but can become dependent on substances to deal with issues such as anxiety and depression.

Walker’s son, Joe Wijohn-Walker, who she described as highly intelligent, was expelled for using drugs and alcohol but hated the alternative education program that he didn’t complete.

“Joe said, ‘I just meet the worst of the worst kids. I’m there with more kids who are using drugs, more kids who are doing bad things.’ ”

Deb Bailey’s daughter, Ola Bailey, started using multiple drugs at age 14, leading her parents to take her to counselling.

“She sought out help on her own, too, but it wasn’t enough,” said Bailey, a former teacher and school counsellor whose daughter was expelled and sent to a so-called pull-out program for three days, only to return to the same high-school rejection that triggered her drug use, which escalated to heroin.

“She needed a much more intensive program,” Bailey said, adding recovery high schools could provide mental health supports enabling parents to discuss their children’s drug use openly with staff.

Bailey’s daughter was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She was found dead at age 21 in the stairwell of a building in the Downtown Eastside in 2015, after overdosing on heroin cut with fentanyl.