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Treatment beds in Nanaimo providing 'paths' away from addiction, says minister

Nanaimo News Bulletin - 12/4/2021

B.C.'s minister of mental health and addictions saw how treatment looks in her own community as she and her government work on filling gaps in care around the province.

Minister Sheila Malcolmson and Jonny Morris, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association's B.C. division, toured the John Howard Society'sVancouver Island Therapeutic Community on Friday, Dec. 3.

This past February, the provincial government announced it was funding 100 treatment and recovery beds around B.C., more than the 50-70 beds it anticipated when it provided the CMHA with $13 million to administer. The 15 beds at the John Howard Society facility were announced at that time.

Malcolmson said speaking with the men at the centre, the ones on the verge of 'graduating' from the program have exit plans in place, including housing.

"They know what they're going to do next and they know that they're going to be better roommates or better family members because they've developed not only that overcoming of the physical addiction, but they've also got the life skills that they're going to have a better life going forward and that is what public health care should be," the minister said.

She said the centre provides care, co-operation, conversation and accountability, and enables the men to learn about the roots of their addictions and set in place new patterns.

"That's not the form for every treatment centre everywhere in the province, but we know just as there are many paths into addiction, there are many paths out," Malcolmson said.

Morris said some of the barriers to more recovery beds in B.C. are NIMBYism and stigma and said agencies like the CMHA and John Howard Society push to make care in communities acceptable.

"The stories that I've heard from the men this morning … so much of their journey of recovery is relationships [with] people who are around them. They lean into that community and that happens in spaces like this – it looks like a home on a street," Morris said. "One of the biggest barriers is stigma, still, and I think if communities who oppose this could sit in a room like this and hear the stories of change and hope, we'd be much further ahead."

Malcolmson said the provincial government will continue to look for partnerships in communities around B.C. as work in ongoing to try to provide a "continuum of care." She said there are gaps to fill between stages of treatment and recovery, such as assessments and stabilization, so that people with addictions are able to make the most of their time in detox.

She said the province is working overtime to build mental health and addictions supports but said "it is a rising tide" and any new services get swallowed up immediately. Every new report from the B.C. Coroners Service on overdose deaths, she said, is a renewed call to action.

"We know those are people that didn't get connected to care when they needed it," she said. "So that tells us that there's more for us to do."

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