Every single person who loses their life as a result of addiction, no matter what substance they are dependent upon, is a preventable death.
So it is no wonder that as an opioid addiction crisis casts a shadow across the western provinces that the friends and family of those struggling with this disease grieve for every single person lost.
You see, addiction is a fatal disease. There are only two outcomes for a diagnosis of a substance abuse disorder – you either find your path to sobriety, or you die.
It is an unforgiving, baffling and soul-crushing situation to find yourself in because suffering from addiction is an all consuming panic that envelops your entire life, your decisions, your thoughts, your actions. The shame of your reality and the disappointment in the eyes of the people who love you can drive you to numb the pain even more by using drugs or alcohol.
But it should be abundantly clear by this point that people in our community are not immune to this disease and there are those we know and love among us who are suffering as a result. Right now, someone is out there is in crisis, but unsure of where to begin or what to do about it. There is hope and help out there – you are not alone.
The idea that someone has to hit rock bottom before they can get better is one that has persisted in the health care system for decades, but it is misguided and doesn’t reflect the reality that addiction recovery is possible and anyone can take the first step when they are ready – they don’t have to be at their lowest point in order to stop and say they need help and something has to change.
The challenge is there is no one route toward sobriety out there – that’s part of the struggle toward addiction recovery that everyone who takes that bold step toward changing their behaviour must navigate.
From 12-step programs, harm reduction approaches, residential treatment centres, to cognitive behavioural therapy and family support – there are many routes and finding the one that works before it is too late is key.
Many people in long-term recovery from addiction have all kinds of systems and supports in place to help them live a sober life. Those systems and tools didn’t get put in place overnight – they take time, hard work and consistency.
But while there are many successful programs, there is more that could be done from a health care policy perspective to save lives.
Much progress has been made when it comes to safe consumption sites in urban centres like Calgary, Lethbridge, Vancouver etc. But little discussion seems to occur when it is smaller more rural communities in need of this kind of health care service.
People suffering from addiction don’t want to die, they also don’t want to suffer from the disease of addiction, so when safe consumption sites open they have proved highly successful at preventing deaths. It isn’t that people are enabled to consume drugs, they were already doing that, but the chance of them being found dead is greatly reduced. There is also a higher chance of successful recovery for those who use supervised sites, because it puts people in contact with all those resources, people, places and things that can lead to sobriety.
But there is more that can be done, and should be done. The next step in this battle is to acknowledge that people are dying from drug poisoning due to a tainted supply on the black market. The drugs are bad and there is another option.
Providing people suffering from addiction with safe drugs might also seem like enabling the problem for some, but for those who live on the edge of chaos and crisis on a daily basis it means a lower risk of death as a result of their disease.
Because every death from addiction is preventable – we can do better as a nation, province and valley.
Bow Valley mental health and addiction services
• Walk-in service is available for urgent mental health care needs at Canmore General Hospital and Banff Mineral Springs Hospital from 2 to
9 p.m. seven days a week. No appointment or health care card is required. The service can help people with depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide or self-harm, overwhelming stress, addictions and other situations that cause a person to be in crisis.
• Mental health counselling for individuals is available by appointment through Alberta Health Services at the Canmore Boardwalk building
(743 Railway Ave.). The office is open Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and closed over the noon hour for lunch. To book an appointment, call 1-877-652-4700 and hit extension 3 for the Bow Valley.
• Mental health counselling for individuals, couples and families is available by appointment through Alberta Health Services at the Banff Community Health Centre (303 Lynx St.). The office is open Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and closed over the noon hour for lunch. To book an appointment, call 1-877-652-4700 and hit extension 3 for the Bow Valley.
• For those who need immediate help they can call the local distress centre 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 403-678-4696 extension 1.
• Opioid dependency treatment is available in Calgary through the Opioid Dependency Program. This service provides physician-supervised methadone or suboxone maintenance treatment in an outpatient setting. The program also provides counselling, treatment planning, referrals to additional treatment options. Individuals can access this program by contacting Access Mental Health at 403-943-1500.
• Help with addictions is also available through Canmore Addiction Services. This program provides information, prevention, and outpatient treatment services for youth and adults with substance abuse or gambling problems, and to their family members or friends. This program is located in the Canmore Boardwalk Building (743 Railway Ave.). It is open Monday to Friday from 8:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and closed for the lunch hour. Call 403-678-4696.
• Adult Addiction Services provides treatment for all substances. The program provides personalized assessment, treatment, and referral services for adults with alcohol, other drug, tobacco, or gambling concerns, as well as friends and family members whose lives have been affected by someone else’s addiction problems. The program is located in downtown Calgary. Some of the services include: individual counselling, support groups, services for those concerned about their mental health or addiction issues, and psycho-educational groups on a range of topics including effects of gambling/alcohol/other drug use, relapse prevention, emotional recovery, and supports for family members. Further information can be obtained by contacting Access Mental Health at 403-943-1500.
• Visit www.bowvalleydrugrisks.ca for more information about how to prevent an opioid overdose.