Cuts to addictions funding pit prevention against recovery

The executive director of a Calgary addictions recovery agency says a recent funding cut is a symptom of a Canada-wide problem, a failure to recognize the crisis level of drug addictions like fentanyl.

‘In essence, shutting down those programs, you will be killing people’

A Calgary addictions recovery agency is sounding the alarm over funding, calling addiction to drugs like fentanyl a national crisis. (Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner's Office/The Associated Press)

The executive director of a Calgary addictions recovery agency says a recent funding cut is a symptom of a Canada-wide problem, a failure to recognize the crisis level of drug addictions like fentanyl.

"The issue here is about the adult addiction treatment facilities being defunded in this city and the collective impact of that," Stacey Petersen of Fresh Start Recovery Centre told CBC News Friday.

The United Way announced earlier in the week who was getting funding and Fresh Start was no longer on the list.

In the past, the agency has relied on the United Way for some of the funding for its family healing program, which provides support to the family members of a person struggling with addiction.

"With addiction on the rise in our city and our province — just this morning there was a call out of Ottawa for a national emergency surrounding addiction — the impact of that I think is going to do irreparable damage and it takes us back years, years in terms of the strides we have made in the solution."

Stacey Petersen of Fresh Start says a recent funding cut from the United Way exposes a larger problem. (Kate Adach/CBC)

The president and CEO of United Way of Calgary and Area says they have difficult choices to make and have to strategically allocate funds.

"Every year we make tough decisions about which programs or initiatives will be funded and which ones won't be," Lucy Miller said.

"You can't fund everything."

Miller said this year, the United Way received funding requests of about $50 million for their communities programs, roughly on par with previous years, but that's still far more than the dollars they will hand out.

"This year we will probably fund somewhere, depending on what happens in campaign, between $15 and $20 million worth of projects or initiatives, which is what we typically do," Miller explained.

Lucy Miller of the United Way says of the $50 million in funding requests they get each year in their communities portfolio, they typically fund between $15 and $20 million. Tough choices are necessary, she added. (Kate Adach/CBC)

She said the organization feels prevention is one of the best ways to address addiction.

"If we can get them upstream before they are chronic it's going to cost a lot less to prevent or to early intervene," Miller said.

"All of the programs have benefits, there are lots of great programs out there, but we have to make the decisions everybody else makes every year. What is the best use of our money when it comes to outcomes? And our donors expect us to be rigorous in looking at how we are investing our money."

United Way funds 59 community-service initiatives

She says the United Way is still funding 59 initiatives for community services that include mental health, employment, substance abuse and housing.

Prevention versus recovery is where there can be differences of opinion, Petersen said.

"I agree with prevention, absolutely but prevention is along the continuum of recovery," he said.

"There has to be recovery initiatives in place while prevention is occurring. It is like trying change the tire on a moving vehicle."

'Shutting down those programs, you will be killing people'

Peterson says the agency will now have to find other sources to replace the roughly $78,000 the United Way provided last year. In fact, other sources of funding have also dropped.

"This isn't about United Way, this isn't about Fresh Start, this is about addiction recovery for Albertans, for Canadians across the country," he said.

Fresh Start is not alone, Petersen said six or seven other adult addiction recovery agencies have also been defunded.

"I think the impact, it is going to create irreparable damage," he warned.

"In essence, shutting down those programs, you will be killing people."


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