It was Christmas Eve 2014 and Ryan Curry was waiting in a rundown motel to do a drug deal. 

He said that when the police arrested him instead, he was almost relieved. 

'I got out by the grace of God. I'm here right now.' - Ryan Currie

"There was a point in time where I didn't think I could ever get out," said Curry, 28 years old and now clean. "But I got out by the grace of God. I'm here right now."

Curry, addicted to opioids since the age of 17, graduated from the Edmonton Drug Treatment Court Service program on Dec. 21, 2016 — almost two years to the day he was picked up by the cops for drug trafficking and possession. 

Of the nearly 400 applicants accepted into the recovery and reintegration program over the past decade, he's among the more than 100 people to complete it. And 70 per cent of them have not been back in the system since. 

Funding cuts

As the number of people dying from opioid-related overdose deaths in Alberta continues to climb, Edmonton drug court manager Grace Froese questions why it's operating on a shoestring budget.  

"Everybody's kind of out there saying, 'What can we do, what can we do?'" Froese said. "We have the answer right here in this model."

From 2005-2015, the Edmonton drug court operated with $583,000 each year from Justice Canada. That funding was scaled back by almost 50 per cent over the past two years. Alberta Justice has stepped up to fill some of the void, but Froese said it's not even close to enough. 

While the program previously had room for 30-40 offenders, it can now only work with 20 at a time. 

Grace Froese

The John Howard Society's Grace Froese, who manages the Edmonton drug court program, speaks Wednesday about the challenges of keeping it going on a shoestring budget. (John Shypitka/CBC)

Liberal Leader David Swann, a former medical officer of health, wants to see money reinvested into the Edmonton drug court and Calgary drug court programs. 

"They need to be very substantially increased if we're really serious about getting these folks into care instead of just punishing them and treating this as a criminal policing issue instead of a health issue," Swann said. 

"Over 50 per cent of people in jails have mental health and addictions problems. That's not an appropriate place to manage these. When they come out, they're sometimes more damaged psychologically than when they went in and they return quickly to the relief that they find in drugs."

Road to recovery

Curry was in and out of jail for non-indictable offences prior to 2014. 

"It all goes along with the lifestyle and what I was living," he said. "I was sick."

Curry had a number of near-fatal overdoses during that time, including one so serious that he was hospitalized in a coma for nine days. That was two months before his Christmas Eve arrest. 

He was told that while he was in the hospital, his sister visited. Sitting in the remand centre coming in and out of consciousness as he went through withdrawal, Curry thought about her. 

"You can imagine the thought in my sister's head when she can't get ahold of me Christmas Eve," Curry said. "Just me thinking about that ... How can I put her through that?"

Froese said Curry was exceptionally motivated to turn his life around, which is a precondition to going through the drug court program. 

'He was done with the lifestyle and he had sunk pretty much to his bottom.' - Grace Froese, Edmonton drug court manager

"He was done with the lifestyle and he had sunk pretty much to his bottom," Froese said. "His presentation was such that, 'My life is over if I don't get into drug court.'

"When he started the program, he committed from the beginning," she said. "He put in so much work and so much effort and dedicated himself to recovering, getting clean and rebuilding a new life and we see the success of that today."

roberta.bell@cbc.ca

@roberta__bell