SHE’S fluffy, she’s friendly – and she’s a powerful new tool in helping young people overcome addiction.
Meet Ruby Buttons, the latest addition to Footscray Hospital’s adolescent withdrawal unit who is brightening the lives of teens.
The baby bunny is one of the novel, therapeutic approaches the hospital is using to tackle the challenging and complex issue of drug and alcohol addiction in patients as young as 12.
Drug Health Services Director Ruben Ruolle says with a rise in heroin and ice use among teens, it was crucial Western Health looked at new ways of engaging patients.
Each year, 124 vulnerable people aged 12 to 25 undertake the holistic detox recovery program, which is designed to deliver a balance of social, recreational and educational activities.
Mr Ruolle says patients are delighted when they first clap eyes on the cute rabbit, named after the brown, button-like mark on her nose.
“The reaction has been one of pure joy,” he says.
“The young people love it and can forge a tactile connection. They pick her up, hold her, feed her, care for her, and it’s a distraction – for a while, they are not thinking about drugs.
“We are working towards even more of a community feel in the unit, and giving clients an experience they often haven’t had before.”
He says they initially looked at introducing a dog or cat, but they were deemed to high-maintenance for the often pressure-filled, 24-hour unit.
The program runs for a week to ten days, depending on the patient’s needs, and involves a mix of sessions like mindfulness, self-care, goal-setting, sexual health, life skills and relapse prevention, as well as yoga, art and nutrition classes.
Excursions to the zoo, café, markets and mini-golf are also incorporated into the daily schedule for patients, many of whom have been admitted from secure welfare or residential care and endured difficult upbringings.
Ice, cannabis and alcohol make up the highest presentations among young people, and Mr Ruolle says they are at pains to avoid a revolving door of readmissions.
“We really push a youth friendly focus with things like the bunny,” he says.
“Some of the young people have never been to the zoo, or to a café for a coffee. We hear things like ‘That was the best day of my life’.”
He says for many patients, the unit is a place of respite rather addiction-conquering, due to the complexity of their issues.
But patients are given advice on how to use drugs more safely, informed about the services available and provided community supports when they are discharged.
As for Ruby, she may soon be getting a companion of her own.
“There’s been talk of calling him Ruben, and I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not – but Ruby is pretty cute,” he says.
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