(Photo by Advocate staff).

Red Deer denied funds for addictions treatment

Red Deer has been left off the list of communities that will receive government funding for residential addiction treatment programs.

Saturday, the province announced $4.3 million to fund 76 beds at private treatment centres in Calgary and Lloydminster for three years. Most of the funding goes to abstinence treatment.

A group dedicated to helping families deal with addiction warns that abstinence-based treatment is the wrong approach during an opioid crisis.

Petra Schultz, co-founder of Moms Stop The Harm, said abstinence is helpful for alcohol or methamphetamine addiction, but most people are dying from opioids today.

It is more effective to prescribe methadone or Suboxone, known as opioid agonist therapy, to prevent withdrawal and reduce cravings, she said.

“It is what physicians and academics recommend as the first line of defence,” Schultz said.

Stacey Carmichael, executive director of Turning Point, said funding for more treatment beds is good, and the beds are to be accessible to Albertans outside those communities.

But she agreed that abstinence-based treatment is not the best practice for people with opioid addiction.

“Upwards of 95 per cent of those who have an opioid use disorder will relapse without opioid agonist therapy,” Carmichael said.

“Hopefully, they’re looking at that as they go forward. We have a lot of work left to do.”

She also said that no amount of treatment or abstinence will make a difference in a person’s life if they remain homeless or don’t have access to income.

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Schultz agreed, saying it is always great to see investment in treatment, but she wondered why it took Premier Jason Kenney so long to fund the beds after first announcing them in September, since no infrastructure was needed.

“What I also find very disappointing is the premier continues to vilify harm reduction in his statements.”

Kenney has said supervised consumption sites are now “more than injections … they’re just illegal drug sites.”

Turning Point runs the overdose prevention site in Red Deer, and Carmichael said there seems to be some misunderstandings about the role of injection sites.

“There is so much evidence that harm reduction is an important part of the continuum of services. Like it or not, it’s very important. It keeps people alive to access treatment,” Carmichael said.

January was the busiest month ever at the overdose prevention site, with 5,468 visits, or an average of 176 visits per day. And there were 178 overdose reversals, the most since the site opened in October 2018.

Schultz said it is wrong for Kenney to say the previous government had a single-minded focus on harm reduction.

As a member of the Opioid Emergency Response Commission, Schultz said expanding opioid agonist treatment to primary care networks, so family physicians could prescribe methadone or Suboxone, was the commission’s greatest achievement.

She said Kenney is also wrong to say that crime is up near supervised consumption sites.

“It’s lower in the vicinity of the Sheldon M. Chumir Centre than in the rest of Calgary. I would expect our premier to know the facts and speak the facts.”

Recently, Kenney said that the province could close or relocate supervised drug consumption sites based on a panel report he says affirms concerns the sites are causing disruption in surrounding neighbourhoods.

Turning Point is waiting to learn the future of its overdose prevention site, which was the first step toward the city getting a supervised consumption site. It would include inhalation booths that the overdose site does not have, as well as wrap-around health and social supports.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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