One drink an hour: harm reduction program celebrates one-year anniversary

The Canadian Mental Health Association is celebrating the first anniversary of its managed alcohol program in Sudbury, one of six across the country.

'I wish they could just give me a pill and it would go away:' controversial harm reduction program thrives

Joey Wawia, shown here with Harm Reduction program manger Cindy Rose, says he knows the program doesn't provide an instant improvement, but is hopeful for his own future — as well as those of other alcoholics. (Angela Gemmill CBC)

The Canadian Mental Health Association is celebrating the first anniversary of its managed alcohol program in Sudbury, Ont., one of six across the country.

The harm reduction program is a voluntary day plan for addicts, who are provided prescribed doses of alcohol hourly over a 12-hour time period.

Thirty-five-year old Joey Wawia, the very first client to be enrolled in Sudbury's alcohol management program in December 2015, still visits the centre for his prescribed dose of alcohol.

'I wish they could just give me a pill and it would go away'

"I don't think it's going to be exactly instant," Wawia said, "I wish it could be. I wish they could just give me a pill and it [would] go away and then I could go take care of the rest of the dreams that I have for my life."

Wawia said he had heard about the program and its success  in Ottawa and wanted to be a part of it when it began in Sudbury. 

The other program locations in Canada provide a communal home for clients, all under one roof.  Since the individuals who begin Sudbury's program are generally homeless, the CMHA faces added challenges administering the program in Sudbury, said Cindy Rose, manager of Sudbury's Harm Reduction program.

Currently the program operates out of 200 Larch St., the same site as the municipal emergency overnight winter shelter, also operated by the CMHA.

Current location's proximity to LCBO a 'challenge' 

"Being in the downtown core, right next to the liquor store is also a challenge and the individuals have recognized that,' Rose said, "it's a trigger for them and it is something that hopefully once we gain that housing may not be as much of a hinder for them."

Rose said they are currently working with the city to find a new location.

"All of the research really shows that the long term stability comes from the residential," Rose said, "so we're in the process of being able to do that and when we do we'll have the capacity to house up to 15," Rose said.

The alcohol management program is funded through the Northeast LHIN, and the usage statistics are reported to the network regularly.

With files from Angela Gemmill.

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