Issues of access for substance abuse support in Lethbridge

Michele McCarthy walk down the steps of the Lethbridge Chapterhouse in Lethbridge on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. McCarthy’s Brother relies on the daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings held here. (Photo by Tate Montgomery/The Press)

How lessening accessibility to supports for substance abuse disorders effects a community when dealing with addiction and mental health issues, is exemplified in Lethbridge, Alberta.

In 2020, on average two point five Albertans a day were lost due to opioid related complications. In addition, within the first six months of 2020 Alberta saw a total of 449 deaths due to opioid poisoning; with 301 of those deaths being in the second quarter. This according to the most recent reports from the Government of Alberta.

This isn’t the only ending in that time, however, as the Safe Injection Site in Lethbridge, Alta. was closed due to mismanagement of government provided funds, followed by government promises of something to replace the now closed social service. The replacement, however, has yet to materialize.

“Lethbridge has been facing an opioid crisis pretty much since it was established,” said Grace Landry; a graduate of the Addictions Counselling program at the University of Lethbridge, who is now working with at risk youth population within Lethbridge with McMan Youth Services.

There are many factors that contribute to someone’s substance abuse, and Landry notes there has been a great increase in efforts towards accessibility for support services due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She does, however, still believe there are many remaining barriers that those struggling within the community still face; such as the closing of integral facilities like the Safe Injection Site.

“The sad thing is that without the services and support from the community as a whole, we’re going to see a lot more of it in schools,” said Landry. “You see a lot more youth and children go into the system for things like substance abuse disorders, as well as generational trauma, which is going to be a lot more prevalent and that is also not being addressed.”

While Landry adds, there are a fair amount of resources in the city, she acknowledges that often times they can’t serve a broad enough spectrum to aid everyone in their journey to recovery. While some might benefit from a faith based program, others might not. As well, some might not have the funds to pay for extensive or complex treatment programs. The importance lies within being a diverse abundance of resources that are easily accessible to those struggling.

Now, in the early months of 2022, nearing two years since the closure of the safe injection site, there is now another integral support for those with substance abuse issues potentially being lost.

The Government of Alberta has recently revived conversations about looking to end their lease of the local Alcoholics Anonymous Chapterhouse. While discussions have been tabled for now, the worry of losing the Chapterhouse still hangs over the heads of some.

Michele McCarthy Poses outside the Lethbridge Chapter house in Lethbridge on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. This is the only location where weekly meetings are held. (Photo by Tate Montgomery/The Press)

“It’s terrifying for me, I’m not an expert in the area of addiction,” said Michele McCarthy, who has been supporting her brother as his primary carer through his long-term struggle with Alcohol Abuse Disorder.

McCarthy fears the struggles her brother might encounter if the government were to ever follow through with plans to end the lease on the local Chapterhouse. She also notes how fragile some of the situations those who depend on the daily meetings could be in, and how devastating losing those meetings could be to them.

People don’t want to acknowledge what’s happening in their own community,- Michele McCarthy

said McCarthy. “They would rather think that it happens somewhere else, that it’s some, you know, big city problem, or whatever.”

Both Landry and McCarthy note that at the end of the day, those struggling need to be seen as people, and not their substance abuse disorder. With Landry also commenting on the importance of substance abuse support being people-focused.

“I worry every day about my brother, and am I doing enough? does he have enough support,” said McCarthy.


About Tate Montgomery 3 Articles
As a news reporting and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Tate Montgomery is working as a writer for The Press during the 2021-22 academic year.