The provincial government favours a more recovery-oriented approach, including support for addiction withdrawal and treatment

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The Calgary Drop-In Centre is hoping to expand its services to assist clients through all stages of addiction, including overdose prevention, detox and recovery management.

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Executive director Sandra Clarkson said the provincial government approached the centre to see if it would be possible to incorporate recovery-oriented services within their organization. She said that system may include overdose prevention services licensed by the province as well as withdrawal management and supports to assist with transitioning to treatment and recovery.

“We’ve been dealing with a lot of complex mental health and addictions issues and our staff are responding to drug poisonings daily,” said Clarkson. “Based on current trends to date this year, we will be anticipating doing over 1,500 drug poisoning reversals. The need is there to provide other services and pathways out of addiction and ideally into treatment, recovery and ultimately housing.”

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The centre will need approvals from its board of directors, Alberta Health Services and Alberta Health, but Clarkson said if everything is approved in a timely manner, it hopes to have the programming in place in six to nine months. She said the Drop-In Centre will be doing community consultations shortly as the process moves along.

The province has stressed on several occasions  it is focusing on creating a recovery-oriented provincial system as Alberta continues to grapple with an opioid crisis. Numbers released Wednesday show there were 113 opioid-related deaths throughout the province in April, a seven per cent drop from the month prior. Opioid fatalities have dropped in recent months but continue to be higher than pre-pandemic times.

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A total of 29 people died from drug poisoning in Calgary in April and 184 people in the city died from drug poisoning in 2022.

Clarkson said the Drop-In Centre’s overdose prevention measures are currently reactive, such as doing regular bathroom checks. She said expanding services will allow them to be more proactive and that it will better allow the facility to adequately help people when they become ready to seek services to treat their addictions.

Sandra Clarkson, executive director of the Calgary Drop-In Centre: “The need is there to provide other services and pathways out of addiction.”
Sandra Clarkson, executive director of the Calgary Drop-In Centre: “The need is there to provide other services and pathways out of addiction.” Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

“We know that when an individual in the moment is ready to make a change, we need to treat it like an emergency and respond in the moment,” said Clarkson. “So having withdrawal management and detox available in the same facility helps create that pathway.”

She said one of the current issues helping to drive the opioid crisis is that people seeking treatment face long wait times and are delayed detox services when they are ready for them.

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A news release from the Drop-In Centre said the new services would be supported by doctors, nurses and other peer and social supports. The centre would also operate a community outreach team that would collaborate with other existing services.

The provincial government has received criticism over plans to shutter Calgary’s only safe consumption site and replace it with overdose prevention services. Safe consumption sites are federally regulated and are designed to be permanent, Clarkson said, while overdose prevention services are provincially licensed and are designed to be temporary.

Shaundra Bruvall, a spokesperson for Alpha House, said it has been approached by the province to explore adding overdose prevention sites to their existing services.

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“We are currently exploring that and we have been engaging with the community and working within our own team to see what it could look like,” said Bruvall.

Justin Brattinga, a spokesperson for the provincial government, said it will continue to build a recovery-oriented system of care, providing Albertans with a continuum of care. He said the Drop-In Centre is a valued partner and together they are working on a better way to care for their clients.

“Recovery-oriented systems of care focus on person-centred, community-based services and building on the strengths and resilience of individuals, families, and communities working together,” said Brattinga.

He said a recovery-oriented system includes bringing overdose prevention services to where clients are, expanding medically assisted detox and investing in digital supports.

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