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Red Deer is poised to be ‘a leader in addictions recovery,’ following council’s support of Mayor’s motion

The new recovery-based approach meets people wherever they are on the recovery journey
Red Deer city council supported a new recovery-based approach to dealing with the opioid crisis on Tuesday. (Advocate file photo).

Red Deer city council supports Mayor Ken Johnston’s push to make the City of Red Deer “a leader in addictions recovery.”

The City of Red Deer is, in some ways, well ahead of the province on this, said Johnston. during Tuesday’s council discussion about embarking on a new recovery-based approach to the opioid crisis.

Before city council unanimously supported the Alberta government report, Towards an Alberta Model of Wellness as a guideline, as per Johnston’s notice of motion on Tuesday, the mayor told councillors Red Deer already has the community connections that it takes to put this plan into action.

A few years ago, the City of Red Deer pulled together a comprehensive safety leadership team. The city aligned with local social service agencies, health care organizations, school boards, Red Deer Polytechnic and the RCMP to promote public safety — and can do so again, this time on the theme of addictions recovery, said Johnston.

The mayor believes scope of teamwork is needed to make a real difference in helping people recover control of their lives from addictions and mental illness.

Several city councillors agreed the City of Red Deer will have to work “as a community.” The municipality wields no practical power in the addictions field — the city will not be operating the permanent homeless shelter, which is supposed to be built by 2024, or two local addictions treatment centres that are expected to start working over the next few months.

But the city does have power to influence decision-making, noted Coun. Bruce Buruma. “We are influencers on this and it is (our role) to influence as much as we can…. This is the start of some crucial conversations,” he added.

Coun. Vesna Higham supports making resources to help fight addictions more accessible to those who need them. The trouble with focusing on a harm reduction-approach is that it keeps people alive but does not provide them with a meaningful existence, said Higham.

Johnston noted harm reduction will still be part of the new approach to recovery-based treatment. But there are many other prongs to this new system.

A person’s recovery goal would be individually defined — and does not necessarily have to include abstinence. It involves a person “living a satisfying, hopeful and contributing life, even when they may be experiencing ongoing symptoms of mental illness or substance use,” according to a report on the Alberta Health Services website.

The recovery model is defined by AHS as helping people regain responsibility and control of their own lives. Health care providers meet people wherever they are on the recovery continuum and help them reach their chosen recovery goals and an enhanced quality of life.

Some treatment facilities expect abstinence for a period of days before they will help an individual. But Johnston said this can seem insurmountable to someone in the grips of addiction. He believes the recovery community should try to meet someone in the place where they are, instead of expecting them to meet external conditions.

With a couple of addictions treatment centres about to start operating in the city and the Red Deer drug court now working, Johnston said the timing is right to look at other, better ways of dealing with people with addictions.

“We have to build recovery on real action and in providing a path,” said Coun. Lawrence Lee. “How do we get people to want to get into treatment? We have to give them systems so they can make good choices.”

Coun. Victor Doerksen believes this new approach builds on four previous city-commissioned reports on how to deal with addictions and mental illness. “I like to see progress.”

Coun. Michael Dawe appreciates that there’s room for failure in the recovery-based approach. “It’s OK to have relapses and to not be ready yet…” The plan does not espouse a “cookie-cutter” approach for everybody, he added, because various things will work for different people.