Opinion: Drug treatment centre is needed

By David Marsden

Red Deer has done a good job of creating a supportive environment for those who want to consume illegal substances.

If you’re determined to shoot up illicit drugs, the city has you pretty well covered.

You can go to the provincially approved supervised drug consumption site, if you wish, where trained staff will watch while you administer contraband drugs bought on the street — drugs with an unknown potency or chemical composition.

If you’re hell bent on flirting with death, but don’t like oversight, first responders stand ready day and night to rush to your home, or wherever else you’ve overdosed.

Our emergency workers provide life-saving intervention so often, they’re feeling the stress of playing God with addicts just a breath away from death.

Emergency Services staff are accustomed to dealing with life-changing events such as drownings and heart attacks. Such events are usually one-offs. Crews arrive, do their best under difficult circumstances, and move on, to the extent that they can.

Red Deer, which has the highest rate of opioid deaths in Alberta per capita, is now at the point where Emergency Services employees are repeatedly being called to the same addresses to administer naloxone, which reverses opioids’ effects.

“It’s distressing,” says Emergency Services acting chief Tyler Pelke. “Our responders are part of the fabric of the community. They like to feel they are making a difference.

“But in these cases, paramedics sense they aren’t really helping an individual in the long run: They can intervene, but these people need more than just us.”

They do, indeed. It might make us feel we’re doing good when we hold addicts’ hands as they get their fix, or rush once again to inject a dose of antidote that staves off death for another day. But it’s not a solution. It’s a Band-Aid that papers over deeper challenges.

That’s why it’s encouraging that a group of business people has stepped forward to convert a shuttered downtown nightclub into a residential treatment centre. The provincial and federal governments aren’t interested in making such a commitment to our community’s most vulnerable citizens. They just want to ensure drug users don’t die just yet.

Realtor Wes Giesbrecht represents a group of so-called faith-based investors who have bought the former Lotus Nightclub. They aspire to raise up to $2 million to establish a 20- to 40-bed addictions treatment centre.

There are detox facilities in Red Deer that assist drug users with getting clean, but in the longer term, addicts too often gravitate back to substance abuse. Such is the power of addiction.

Giesbrecht says research shows there’s an 86 per cent success rate of former addicts staying clean once they manage to stay off drugs for six months. The proposed facility would provide care for 49 days.

Already some people have questioned the wisdom of locating the treatment centre downtown, the epicentre of the city’s illegal drug use, but surely it’s important to create space for a service that aims to make our community healthier and stronger.

Giesbrecht and other members of his group deserve the community’s support. It would be naïve to think that every drug user wants to shed their habit, or is ready to, but those who seek support deserve our very best efforts, not benign indifference.

One is reminded of the adage: Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, feed him for a lifetime.

There’s a lesson here for how Red Deer chooses to deal with its drug crisis. When possible, let’s help addicts live without chemical substances rather than nurturing their habit.

David Marsden is managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

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