Canadian substance abuse centre issues first-ever national recovery survey

Experts in the addiction recovery industry are hoping a first-ever national survey of former drug users will help illuminate best practices for treatment.

B.C. health officials agree that more treatment options are needed

A new survey is looking at how people battling addiction managed to recover. (David Ryder/Reuters)

Experts in the addiction recovery industry are hoping a first-ever national survey of former drug users will help illuminate best practices for treatment.

"One of the things missing from this conversation is the story of those who have survived addiction," said Marshall Smith, one of ten people on the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse's national recovery advisory committee. 

Smith used to work as a senior staff member with the B.C. government — until a crippling cocaine addiction took over his life.

"I could no longer function in my job, and I became homeless; I lost my career, my home and wound up living on the streets of Vancouver in the Downtown Eastside," he said.

But Smith says battling street life forced him to seek help.

"It wasn't until I was able to get into treatment and find recovery that my life started to get better," 

"Today I have a job that I love, I get to help people. I am very engaged in the community."

Smith says often the public only hears about addicts who are are in dire straights, but many of them remain invisible — leading regular lives as they struggle with addiction. 

"They are teachers. They are judges. They are airline pilots. This is going on all over the place," he said. 

Smith says he hopes the survey will be used to help Canadians better understand who addicts are and what help they need.

For example, he says drugs like methadone that are used to treat severe opioid addictions don't help everyone, and more diverse recovery programs are needed.

'One size does not fit all'

That's something health officials say they're aiming for too.

"It goes without saying that one size does not fit all," said provincial health officer Perry Kendall. "What we are looking at is increasing access to a wide range of addiction treatment modalities." 

But he also says the province is increasing access to suboxone, a similar drug to methodone that can replace the need for opioid drugs but has a safer profile.

Marshall says about 1,000 people have already taken the survey, which closes June 1.

Results will be released by this fall.

With files from Angela Sterritt