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Calgary addiction centres impacted by COVID-19

Calgary addiction centres have seen a steady decrease in client intake numbers due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Centres are unable to see patients who have COVID-19 and social distancing has been a challenge for in-person counselling.

Mike Davies, a social worker at Health Upwardly Mobile said this pandemic is especially hard on those facing addiction.

“One of the most dangerous things for somebody with addiction is isolation and one of the core tenets of recovery is connection,” said Davies.

Alberta Health Services runs several addiction and detox clinics across the province.

Addiction centres saw a decrease of nearly 45 per cent during this time, with the bottom coming in April.

Navigating addictions and COVID-19

Davies said HUM has been trying an array of things to get counselling sessions back to normal.

The centre moved some of its meetings online in order to reach people who are unable to come in.

“We went to an alternating pattern of in-person groups one week. Zoom groups the following week, just to try to hit people where they’re at,
he said.

Renfrew Recovery Centre is an intake facility, meaning they house patients for up to 10 days.

The centre was unable to accept anyone with COVID-19, leaving them vulnerable and in need of help.

James Wood with AHS said client services had to be paused for public health reasons.

“Standards are in place to protect residents at residential addiction treatment facilities from COVID-19 while supporting service provider’s ability to continue to provide services to those accessing treatment,” Wood said in an em

“Psychoeducational groups, treatment groups, and day programs have also been paused or have reduced the number of clients to allow for physical distancing. Clients are offered one-to-one services and supports in their place.”

Davies said “there’s no substitution for in person services” and they’re planning on doing all in-person group work as of June 1.

COVID-related relapses

Isolation is leaving people depressed, stressed and leading some to drink or use drugs. STOCK PHOTO

A statement on Statistics Canada said, “persons who are isolated, bored, stressed, and experiencing significant disruptions to their normal ways of life – as is the case for most Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic, may use cannabis, alcohol, and tobacco products, in the hopes of easing these feelings.

Davies said this is evident in the patients he’s seeing.

“We have already heard and seen a few people coming in, either as new clients or as returning clients and current clients who have relapsed due to social isolation,” he said.

He said that numbers have been lower than normal since the first waves of the pandemic, but he does see people making an effort to confront their addiction.

“We saw intakes still coming through. So people were still recognizing, they had problems and despite the climate we’re still seeking help.”

On May 7, Michelle Rotermann, a senior analyst at Stats Canada put out a statement on the matter.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed Canadians’ lives in previously unimaginable ways in a very short period of time. Given the disruption and stress it may come as no surprise that the consumption of cannabis, alcohol and tobacco has increased for some,” she said.

Canadian Perspectives Survey Series (CPSS) chart showing how people have been affected by COVID-19 STATISTICS CANADA

Safe injection sites see a drop

Safeworks Supervised Consumption Services (SCS) opened in Calgary in 2017 to provide a safe spot for people to inject without the risk of overdose.

According to Alberta Heath Services, In 2017, 733 people died of an opioid overdose in Alberta.

The site saw a steady increase from October 2017 to early 2020.

In March, the SCS decreased booth capacity from six to three to help with physical distancing.

Safeworks SCS Total Number of Visits and Average Number of Visits per Day, by Month / Alberta Health Services

There had been a steady increase in the average number of visits to Safeworks going back to September 2019. There was a 17 per cent decline in visits in March 2020, compared with February 2020.

Even with the lower number, drugs were consumed under supervision 5,863 times in March alone. This number includes injection, ingestion (swallowing) and intranasal (snorting).

Safeworks responded to 83 overdoes in March. Sixty-three of those cases required supplemental oxygen.