Advocates say the lack of addictions treatment options in the Battlefords area is causing people seeking treatment to fall through the cracks, increasing the burden on local governments.
Malcolm McNeil, a peer mentor and advisor who helps direct harm reduction initiatives in North Battleford, says he’s heard of people travelling as far as Edmonton to get a spot in a detoxification centre.
“We’re losing eight out of ten people that are asking for help because we don’t have the facilities here,” McNeil said in an interview last month.
There are nine government-licensed detoxification centres in the province, two of which are in Saskatoon. The detoxification process, which lasts between seven and ten days, involves managing symptoms of withdrawal in a medically-supervised setting, away from triggers or access to substances.
Presently, people who use drugs living in the Battlefords region usually travel to facilities in Lloydminister, Meadow Lake or Saskatoon, according to Saskatchewan Health Authority communications officer Doug Dahl. He wrote in a statement to Postmedia that typical wait times ranging between three and seven days.
Patients are typically responsible for their own transportation, though Dahl says travel can sometimes be arranged via the Ministry of Social Services or First Nations medical taxi programs.
Capacity in publicly-funded detoxification centres has been a growing concern in recent years as the number of cases, especially those involving crystal meth use, continue to grow.
McNeil says organizing placement in a facility can take weeks of continued phone calls, after which the person may have already relapsed or decided against going to detox.
“It takes a lot of guts to ask for help,” McNeil said. “When they finally come to the door after thirty years out there and say ‘I need help,’ all of a sudden there is nowhere to take them.”
Danielle Radchenko, a sexual health coordinator in North Battleford, says a centre would help more people follow through on their plans to stop using substances.
To be most effective, she says the centre would need to be in the community and have enough capacity to connect patients to services on the day they arrive.
“When someone comes to me and says I need to go to detox, they have to leave that hour,” Radchenko said. “That usually doesn’t happen.”
While North Battleford has a population of less than 14,500, the city is a services hub for multiple outlying communities, many of which are banding together to address the issue.
There are no immediate plans to expand access to detoxification services in the Battlefords area, which is the purview of the province.
First Nations and municipal leaders in the region recently signed the Sacichawasihc agreement, creating a first-of-its-kind multilateral framework to address the region’s priorities including addictions treatment.
North Battleford Mayor Ryan Bater says he’s been hearing for years about the desire for expanded addictions treatment in the city, particularly from law enforcement, who say resources are being spent incarcerating or arresting the same group of affected people who cannot access healthcare treatment.
He says the framework’s parties have invited the province to a meeting to discuss the issue. He cautions he does not want to “be prescriptive” with requests for a detoxification centre without reviewing data from the province or getting input from the framework’s other parties.
But he says notes substance use is not an issue governments should ignore, especially after last summer’s HIV outbreak.
“We have a stake in this. This is impacting the health of our community, and we want to do what we can and work with who we can to come up with some solutions.” Bater said.
Photo by Liam Richards, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix