Substance abuse has been an ongoing crisis on a global scale, and in the past few years, the opioid crisis in Alberta continues to grow.
In the first quarterly report of 2022, the Alberta Government recorded 562 opioid-related deaths — this comes after a record-breaking 2021 year where Alberta saw 1,758 drug-related overdoses. The increase is just over 30 per cent from 2020, and more than twice the amount of deaths in 2019.
With a growing need for harm reduction services, one rehabilitation stands out in their approach to help those impacted by the opioid crisis.
A fresh start
Fresh Start Recovery Centre has been operating for nearly 30 years in southern Alberta with locations in Calgary and Lethbridge. Being a non-profit organization, 53 out of 73 beds at Fresh Start have enhanced funding from the provincial government. The centre treats those impacted by various forms of addiction and hopes to make a positive impact on those affected by Alberta’s opioid crisis.
Bruce Holstead went through his own personal journey of addiction and after being 24 years sober, he is now an executive director at Fresh Start. Holstead says the centre has been able to restore people back to a healthier way of life through their services.
“They’ve become contributing and participating, acceptable members of society once again. They’ve returned to employment. They’ve returned to their families. I think that’s the biggest impact of all, we’ve been able to manage and stop the loss of life,” says Holstead.
The centre runs a standard 14-16 week program, with no referral needed, staff on call 24/7, and an initial intake done on the phone. With an 80 per cent completion rate for the 16-week group and 53 per cent completion of sobriety after one year, their process works to break down barriers for those struggling or unsure of how to reach out.
A different approach
The centre does not require individuals to leave immediately after they have completed their programming if they don’t want to. The centre also offers additional support like post-treatment housing, alumni support groups, and events after individuals complete their standard programming.
Director of operations for Fresh Start Recovery Centre, Jennifer Kent-Charpentier says that the community of support built at the centre amongst current patients and alumni makes their program really unique.
“If you came here on a Wednesday night and saw the amount of alumni, you will see quite a community of people that gather together for the specific reason of supporting each other in the recovery process.”
Those struggling with substance abuse are not the only ones who need to be cared for, as those close to them too, their loved ones, also need support — something that Fresh Start Recovery not only recognizes but prioritizes.
They also operate a Friends and Family Recovery program — a five-week support group dedicated to supporting those who know somebody going through addiction. The centre ensures accessibility to anyone both inside and outside of the program’s reach and helps individuals deal with their own emotions regarding a loved one’s addiction.
Holstead says the success they see of individuals coming out of their programs is not only shown in the positive impacts on those struggling with addiction but their loved ones as well.
“You watch them flourish over time and come out and return back with successful stories of their current well-being and then return to their families. And, you know, the moms who say thank you,” says Holstead. “I think that’s really important to point out, that it’s not just one experience, it’s all of them.”
Though facilities like Fresh Start Recovery are making impacts on the community, there still remains a call for action in harm reduction services. In a media release, the NDP opposition critiqued the UCP’s response to the crisis. Lori Sigurdson, the NDP critic for mental health and addictions, said in the release that she finds the government’s lack of action sickening.
“They have failed the paramedics and emergency room professionals who know each day comes with deaths related to drug use. They have failed community outreach workers who strive every day to keep Albertans alive.”
Doctor Meira Louis is an emergency physician at the Peter Lougheed Hospital in Calgary’s northeast and says that the opioid epidemic has had a devastating impact on the province.
“I think there has been an issue with mental health in the last two years… and substance abuse is a big part of mental health,” says Louis. “Long term, what you really need is big picture investments in low-income housing, in work services and other things that allow people to connect and to kind of re-engage with day to day life in a way that’s accessible to everyone.”