Calgary addictions centre struggling to keep up with demand as donations drop, says director

Fresh Start, a residential treatment facility in Calgary, has seen its waiting list more than double while its corporate donations have dropped by $350,000. It's now launching a new campaign.

Fresh Start launches latest fundraising campaign to avoid hiking client fees

Matthew McMillan, a recovering addict who is a client of the Fresh Start Recovery Centre, says a knee injury eight years ago led to an opioid addiction. (CBC)

The Fresh Start Recovery Centre, an addictions treatment facility, is struggling to address the opioid crisis because, like many agencies in Calgary, funding is not keeping pace with demand. 

That would mean being unable to help more clients like recovering addict Matthew McMillan, who started the 16-week program in September.

"It's re-established that hope, because even when I got here I still wanted to die, I did, and now I don't want to die," said McMillan, who came to the northeast Calgary treatment centre from his home in Regina.

McMillan says he started taking opiates eight years ago after injuring his knee. He says it didn't take long for the drugs to take a hold of his body, to the point where he was selling his prescription medication to pay for his insatiable habit.

I got to the point where I was so toxic ... I could touch you and you could overdose.- Matthew McMillan, recovering addict

Eventually he started committing more serious crimes to pay for a dangerous cocktail of fentanyl, carfentanyl, heroin and crystal meth.

 "I got to the point where I was so toxic — I'm sure you've heard about the fentanyl and the carfentanyl and all that kind of stuff — where I could touch you and you could overdose," said McMillan.

While McMIllan is finding success in treatment, Petersen says there are many others still waiting to get in.

The agency's wait list went from about 70 people a few years ago up to 200 at its peak last year.

There are now about 125 people hoping to get in.

Stacey Petersen, executive director of Fresh Start, says about a dozen people on the facility's wait list last year died before they could start the program. (CBC)

"If we continue the way we are going," said executive director Stacey Petersen, "we will not be able to meet the demand, we just won't. We will not be able to increase capacity in any way, as far as operationally, and there is a need to do that."

"Last year, we had 19 people die, known to us, and about two-thirds of that were on our wait lists."

Private and corporate donations, which account for 30 per cent of the operating budget, have dropped by at least $350,000 as a result of the economy.

As well, the United Way decided to defund adult addiction treatment programs last year.

Actor and musician Tom Jackson performs on a video as part of a fundraising campaign for the Fresh Start Recovery Centre in Calgary. (Fresh Start)

"We have had people say just charge more [but] they don't understand these people don't have money, their families have already paid enough."

Petersen hopes to avoid having to charge clients more, as other agencies have done to address their funding shortfalls.

Fresh Start is launching its latest fundraising campaign featuring actor and singer Tom Jackson.

He appears in a video singing new lyrics to Silent Night, and concludes by saying, "Consider giving a gift that brings hope to 365 silent nights."

The Fresh Start Recovery Centre, located in northeast Calgary, has been helping addicts since 1992. It's launched an new fundraising campaign to make up a significant shortfall.