Pain, complexity and a push to keep digging — Your feedback on The Way Out: Addiction in Alberta
CBC Calgary’s series, The Way Out: Addiction in Alberta, got an overwhelming response from readers.
Earlier this month, we documented the fundamental shift Alberta is taking in the way addictions are treated in this province. The series explored recovery, harm reduction and access to safe supply. It also told the stories of the people impacted.
We received a large number of comments through our feedback form, some of which are printed below with the permission of those who wrote them. We have edited them for length.
We heard from many people who had the courage to share very personal experiences with addiction and how they found their way out.
“I have been an addict most of my 52 years,” wrote Michael Vanduzen.
“I spent years homeless on the streets of Calgary and Vancouver. I tried to stop dozens of times. I found my way to ODP (Opioid Dependency Program) in Calgary and they helped me get me on methadone. It saved my life, and after years of counselling, I pulled myself back from the brink.”
I tried to stop dozens of times.– Michael Vanduzen
Parents, siblings and family members told us about the heartbreak of watching a loved one struggle with drugs and alcohol.
Kathleen Anderson told us her daughter died using toxic drugs.
“People don’t choose to be a drug addict. How many five-year-olds say they want to be a drug addict when they grow up? Something is different with these people, and the drug is what works. Addiction doesn’t happen overnight, and it sure doesn’t get better overnight.”
We also heard from Calgarians such as Tasha Hong who have witnessed the effects of the crisis on our streets.
“My story is about leaving my local pharmacy after vaccinations with my five-year-old child in early January 2023, only to see a man lying unconscious on the cold pavement with a bystander doing chest compressions. A second bystander asked if I knew CPR. I said yes, having just completed my annual re-certification that day,” they said.
“What I don’t have training in is how to use naloxone. I ran back into the pharmacy to get some. I’ve never given an injection to someone before, but with coaching I did it for that man and it saved his life. It saddens me that in running my everyday errands, this tragedy is occurring everywhere, everyday in our city.”
There were a lot of questions about the new recovery communities the UCP government is planning.
People wondered how they will work: who will get access to the facilities and how long can they stay? And how are they regulated?
What we know so far is the province is building six treatment facilities, starting with one in Red Deer, which will open in the next couple of months.
The government says the facilities will be operated by private contractors and will be free to patients, who will be able to stay for up to one year.
Many people who wrote in questioned the effectiveness of this type of treatment facility.
John Allen said: “I was a bit disappointed with the lack of fact-based coverage of the questionable efficacy of treatment centres, the lack of regulation of not only facilities, but programming and staff.”
These are excellent questions and our plan is to take a deeper dive into whether treatment is working at a later date, once the new facilities are up and running. The province has told us they will require health care information from patients and they plan to capture data to track progress.
We heard stories from those whose lives were changed by treatment.
Richelle Fenemor wrote: “I am a severe alcoholic that is currently 17 months sober. I attended four different rehab facilities in the province, and it absolutely saved my life. Being in a safe place where I could focus on myself and start dealing with the bigger issues was essential.”
A one-size-fits-all approach, whether it’s harm reduction or recovery focused, is not what we need.– Brylee Rogers
Most people said there is no single answer to overcoming addiction to drugs and alcohol; that opioid replacement therapy and treatment combined are needed to help solve the problem.
Brylee Rogers lost friends to addiction.
“Every single person who is struggling with addiction is different and requires personalized solutions to get clean. A one-size-fits-all approach, whether it’s harm reduction or recovery focused, is not what we need. There needs to be various options available because what works for one person may not work for the next.”
Chris McBain also wrote to us with that opinion. We commissioned him to write a full opinion piece for us, and you can read that here.
Drug Crisis Language
Some who wrote to us were critical of the language we used to describe the crisis.
Euan Thomson wrote: “It’s not an opioid crisis. Please stop referring to it as such. Overdose, drug toxicity, drug poisoning, unregulated drug, anything else that characterizes the problem more accurately than simply stigmatizing a drug class many people need.”
It’s not an opioid crisis.– Euan Thomson
While we made references to the opioid or drug crisis, our intention was to fully explore the problem as a whole.
That included going to a drug testing lab where it became very clear the drug supply on our streets is toxic. We interviewed many addicted people who spoke of experiencing repeated drug overdoses and were revived to finally find recovery.
We told the story of Ophelia Black who has launched a lawsuit to stop the government from tapering her prescribed high potency opioid replacement drugs. Without those, she believes she will be forced to use deadly street drugs.
And this is by no means the end. As a newsroom, we intend to continue following this issue, and we’d like to thank everyone who wrote in.
Your insight will help shape our ongoing coverage.
The Way Out: Addiction in Alberta
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