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Many central Albertans feel left in the dark about fee waiver for addictions treatment

Red Deer woman lost her best friend to a drug overdose last fall
Carmen Brown said the government should do a better job of spreading the word about the fee waiver on addictions treatment. (Contributed photo).

Out-of-pocket fees have been waived at Alberta’s 72 publicly-funded addictions treatment facilities — but many people who could most benefit don’t know about this.

Michelle Kruhlak, of Red Deer, questioned why bulletins about the “free drug treatment” are not posted at all supervised injection sites, mental health clinics, 12-step program meetings, homeless shelters and drop-in centres.

Street teams should be spreading the word that there are no financial barriers to addictions treatment in Alberta because it would take away a major hurdle to people seeking recovery, she added.

“It might push more people to get help because addicted people are always making excuses not to go.”

Kruhlak is very sorry her best friend Jeremy Knibbs didn’t know this fee waiver was started up on Nov. 6.

At the time, Alberta’s associate minister of mental health and addictions, Jason Luan, stated that Alberta is the first province in the country to lift the financial barriers to addictions treatment: “We are giving all Albertans — regardless of their financial situation — the opportunity to recover and build a better life. Recovery is for everyone.”

Knibbs was denied treatment for his drug addiction in September because he couldn’t afford the $40 to $60 a day cost, said Kruhlak. Treatment programs usually last 18 to 60 days, so the total would have been from $720 to $2,400.

When Alberta Works turned down Knibbs’s request for funding assistance, “he spiralled down from there,” Kruhlak recalled. “He was really looking forward to treatment, he was all set and preparing to go, and then he told me, ‘They’re not letting me come. (Alberta Works) won’t pay for it.’”

Already struggling with mental health issues, the 30-year-old Edmonton man died of an overdose on Nov. 16 — 10 days after the fee waiver program was started.


-Overdose deaths in Red Deer jumped in 2020

Kruhlak, a recovering alcoholic, said she only heard about the no-fee treatment from a friend this week, six months after the waiver started.

While she thinks it’s a great decision that the provincial government made when overdose deaths have drastically increased during the pandemic, it will only make a difference if more people with addictions know about it.

Luan told the Advocate on Tuesday that his government has spoken to the media about the free addictions treatment to try to spread the word. His department next plans to work on a campaign to publicize this more widely.

“We want to focus on eliminating barriers and (telling people) how to access life saving services,“ said Luan.

Such things as government-sponsored public advertising and posters are among what is being considered. He said, “The details will be finalized later we are now discussing our overall strategy.”

Luan added that offering no-fee addiction treatment is a campaign promise that his UCP government has acted on through $140 million of new spending in this area over the government’s four-year term.


-Local overdose prevention site awaits funding decision

Carmen Brown, a Red Deerian who now lives in Camrose, also sees the need for more publicity, as the wait list for the least-expensive recovery centres had been very long.

She said, “I am a recovering addict and am a member of several recovery groups and I just heard about this now.”

Opioid and harmful substance related deaths have increased by 76 per cent in Canada since the first pandemic lockdown, so letting the community know that those suffering from addiction can get treatment without the barrier of cost should be a priority, Brown added.

She said no addict enjoys their addiction. “It becomes a disease of the mind.” It took three trips to drug treatment for Brown to now be 16-months drug-free, having realized her problem is linked to childhood trauma.

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Lana Michelin

About the Author: Lana Michelin

Lana Michelin has been a reporter for the Red Deer Advocate since moving to the city in 1991.
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