The Westside Mental Health and Addiction Services is just one of the services offered in Quesnel. File photo

Quesnel’s addictions services offerings are improving

Despite citing a lack of resources, professionals say city’s programs have come a long way

Nicole Field

Observer contributor

The quality and quantity of addictions services in Quesnel has been a longstanding concern for support and health care workers in the area. It continues to be their primary focus for improvement.

The professionals say resources are lacking, but that the efforts put forth are implemented with great dedication to some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Dr. Roland Engelbrecht and Dr. Ivan Scrooby, from the William’s Lake Cornerstone Chemical Dependency Clinic, travel to Quesnel every Friday to offer methadone and suboxone to people with opioid dependency.

Dr. Jon Fine was the first doctor in Quesnel to offer methadone to people struggling with addiction in the 1980s. He says this process has come a long way in the past several years and believes it is essential to those seeking help with opioid addiction.

“They’re not getting sick,” Fine says.

“They’re not drug-seeking, they’re not using needles, they’re not getting HIV or Hep C. [The process of offering methadone and suboxone] allows addicts to get through withdrawal without the pain. That’s what keeps a lot of people addicted. They start to go into painful withdrawal, both physical and psychological. The process satisfies the opioid receptors without the harmful effects.”

Harm reduction sites, as well as connections to mental health and counselling services, are offered out of the primary care clinic and the emergency room in G.R. Baker Memorial Hospital.

Season’s House has its own harm reduction supply program and take-home Naloxone program, and supplies are also available from the Friendship Centre and Quesnel’s Tillicum Society.

Reanne Sanford, the regional nursing lead for harm reduction, says that the safe disposal of needles is one of the primary focuses in the needle exchange program, so all supplies given include sharps disposal units.

Chrys Mills, an RN and the office manager at Cornerstone Clinic, says: “[These programs] help reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms of clients who are trying to stop opioid use. [However,] providing methadone and suboxone is only part of [the process.] We also direct clients to programs and services available for them to help with [other] areas of difficulties in their lives.”

Fine says there are “three pillars” involved in the process of assisting substance users to a healthier, safer way of life. Strictly implementing the medical aspect is not enough. He says a strong and supportive social base and counselling and mental health are also incredibly important.

The Westside Mental Health and Addictions centre is Quesnel’s resource for psychological support.

Sanford says that small communities create a different kind of struggle on the social front, as the stigma of addiction is quite limiting to people seeking support. She explains it’s important for those who may not understand the multi-layered reality of addiction to become educated and ask questions to fully understand why these services are required.

“Given the climate that we’re living and working in right now with the overdose emergency and losing four people a day in B.C., it’s just not OK anymore to discriminate and stigmatize a population of people that are already at risk. This just makes them feel more isolated and [in turn] puts them at further risk,” she says.

“It’s important that we as a community start taking it on and asking ‘what can we do?’ to make people feel included, valued and important.”

Fine adds that if an individual is in need of help, and takes all the necessary steps in an effort to improve their situation, a lack of social support and inclusivity means they’re more likely to fall through the cracks.

This is where Season’s House becomes a crucial space, giving people in need a place to go to feel safe, welcome and understood. But Melanie MacDonald, the executive director of Season’s House, says the system is “severely fragmented and under resourced … Season’s House employees regularly pay out of their own pocket to help people.”

In addition, MacDonald says there is a shortage of addictions specialists in Quesnel, and people who are in need of detox are sent out of town with no transportation assistance. But she believes the dedication of Season’s House makes it a keystone for individuals who require faith, support and survival.

“[We] have reversed 43 overdoses on our site and in our vicinity,” MacDonald says.

“[And] have recorded probably near a hundred more that have been reversed out in the community with kits we give out.”

MacDonald and others working in the sector believe Quesnel still has a way to go to improve resources, but Dr. Fine says Quesnel’s substance abuse support programs have come a long way.

“If you had asked me a year or two ago, I would have said no [the programs are not sufficient], but now I think we’re definitely getting there.”

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