Services to help those struggling with addictions are centred around Port Alberni's lower Third Avenue, near the Bread of Life and Friendship Centre. (Google Earth)
What is addiction? According to Psychology Today, addiction is a condition caused by a person ingesting a substance (e.g., alcohol, cocaine, nicotine) or engaging in an activity (e.g., gambling, sex, shopping) that can be pleasurable - but the continuation of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary responsibilities and concerns, such as work, relationships, or health.
People commonly turn to addictions in times of stress. Unless the cause of the stress is addressed, the person is compelled to stay in addiction or move on to another, equally destructive addiction.
Wes Hewitt, administrator of the Port Alberni Shelter Society, says treating addictions is complex and there is no one solution that works for everyone. “Addicts have to want to quit, they have to want that change in order to be successful in beating addiction,” he said, adding that interventions might work for a very few, but without the desire to quit, it isn’t likely to work.
“Nobody wakes up and says today I am going to be an addict; but what they do say sometimes is, today I want to get help – and that is what the Island Health team is there to do, to help,” said Hewitt.
Port Alberni Shelter Society (PASS), in partnership with Vancouver Island Health Authority maintains an Overdose Prevention Site (OPS) at 3699 Third Avenue. It is a harm reduction site. Besides providing medically trained people to assist anyone that overdoses, the OPS also provides clean drug-use supplies, condoms and naloxone kits. “We hope that all users will have kits and, because they tend to isolate themselves when using, we hope friends and families have kits as well,” said Hewitt.
Injection drug users, for example, not only expose themselves to HIV when using dirty needles, but also, more commonly staph infections. “Boils and abscesses are common among IV drug users,” said Hewitt. By providing clean supplies it is hoped that the chances of spreading disease or infection are reduced, taking some burden off of the health care system. The OPS is also a place for people struggling with addiction to connect with resources.
The OPS provides a private room for safe injection and also a semi private area for those who prefer to smoke their drugs. Hewitt says addicts prefer to use in private so they probably wouldn’t want to leave the comfort of their home to when using. People who use alone don’t have anyone to help them if they overdose.
The Port Alberni OPS offers things like free Wi-Fi and donated food along with health information, naloxone kits, training and referrals to health care professionals for those wanting rehabilitation. They hope to offer more in order to draw people in to the site.
In addition to the OPS, the Port Alberni Shelter Society has also opened The Sobering Centre, located 3628 Fifth Avenue. “It is not only for those drinking alcohol, but it is a safe place for individuals to sleep,” Hewitt said. “In the past, if police found you intoxicated in the street they would take you to the hospital or put you in cells; having a Sobering Centre prevents this from happening,” he explained.
Agencies in the community are beginning to make use of the two-bed Sobering Center. “The hospital may send you to the Sobering Centre if you’re medically fine; the RCMP and ambulance attendants may also do this, or people may just walk in,” said Hewitt.
There are two beds at the Sobering Centre but they can make more room if necessary. People may stay up to 23 hours. They get a meal and they can wash their clothes. There are extra clothes if they need it. “It’s about making a connection,” said Hewitt. If they want to quit addictions, we will connect them with a nurse who will work with them on what they need for support.
“Detox can be a different thing or different places; it can be done from home with support or it can happen in a centre or out of town. We try to tailor it to the individual,” said Hewitt.
He pointed out that finding immediate help in the emergency room or even at the doctor’s office can be difficult for a number of reasons. Emergency room doctors are focussed on dealing with in-the-moment health emergencies. And when it comes to family doctors, not every doctor can provide suboxone therapy, which is an opiate replacement therapy.
Physicians must take special training in order to provide it. Of the few suboxone therapy-trained doctors, each can only take so many patients.
Hewitt says there was a time when Port Alberni only had one suboxone-trained physician but now there are more and the number is increasing steadily.
If anyone wants Naloxone kits, even if they’re from out of town, they may go to the OPS when it’s open or they may visit the Sobering Centre anytime. The training time is about 15 minutes and you take away a free Naloxone kit.
“It’s a Band-Aid that helps until we can find a way to deal with addiction,” said Hewitt. He went on to say that he would like to see people address the stigma of drug addiction. “What brought that person to this point in life? People don’t know the power of addiction,” he stated.
“There are people with strong family values that end up on the streets, selling themselves,” said Hewitt. “If we stop to talk to them we learn that the image we see does not reflect the person inside; that person is a lot nicer,” he added.
Dr. Shayne Longman is one of those specially-trained Suboxone therapy physicians and he holds a health clinic at the Bread of Life every Friday. He works with marginalized community members, who, by the nature of addiction, have proven to be unreliable when it comes to keeping medical appointments.
Dr. Longman’s weekly clinics are an important resource for those that wouldn’t otherwise see a doctor in a town that has a shortage of family physicians.
Resource agencies in the Alberni Valley meet monthly to talk about how best to help the people. The Health Outreach team is mobile, setting up all around town. Port Alberni Friendship Center, located at 3555 Fourth Ave., has an addictions and mental health counsellor. Other community resources include the NTC Nursing staff, the NTC Teechuktl team who all work together to help the people.
The Nuu-chah-nulth Teechuktl Mental Health provides counselling, traditional healing, and other services that support the mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of Nuu-chah-nulth individuals, families and communities. According to Ruby Ambrose NTC Teechuktl Southern Region Coordinator, the Teechuktl/Quuasa team has developed a great support service for the Nuu-chah-nulth communities and urban centers. There are outreach wellness workers, clinical counsellors and cultural workers who provide support and referral services to clients.
“A majority of our staff have Naloxone training and we have kits on site,” said Ambrose. Besides individual counselling and support groups, the Teechuktl staff also provides cultural healing support like brushings and cleansings.
“If someone would like to access a service provider they may contact a regional coordinator to access our list or get support with finding a counsellor or setting up an appointment.” said Ambrose. The NTC Teechuktl (Mental Health) offices are located at 3483 Third Ave. in Port Alberni.
Teechuktl staff work with individuals, families, communities, First Nations, and external organizations to support the mental and emotional health of all Nuu-chah-nulth. Their services include individual and family counselling, traditional healing gatherings, prevention education, and help in accessing crisis counselling.
Some examples of issues we can help with include: residential school impacts, alcohol/drug issues, family violence, grief and loss, suicide prevention/awareness
For more information call 1-888-624-3939. The Overdose Prevention Site operates seven days a weeks from 8a.m. to 4p.m. Naloxone kits and training are available.
The Port Alberni Sobering Site operates 24/7. Naloxone kits and training are available.