New addictions 'recovery community' announced for Red Deer

The province is committing up to $5 million to build a 75-bed facility in Red Deer as part of its recovery community program unveiled earlier this week

Model touted as effective alternative to supervised consumption sites

Jason Luan, associate minister of mental health and addictions, announced the new centre alongside Premier Jason Kenney and local politicians on Saturday. (Audrey Neveu/CBC)

The first of five new provincial addiction treatment centres was announced in Red Deer on Saturday.

The province is committing up to $5 million to build a 75-bed facility in the central Alberta city as part of its recovery community program unveiled earlier this week. The program will see $25 million put toward five centres and 400 beds — a 30 per cent capacity increase — across the province.

"You're the first out of the gate of our revolutionary transformation," Jason Luan, associate minister for mental health and addictions, told a crowd that included local MLAs and Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer. He said zone and policy considerations had already been cleared to get the centre up and running quickly.

Luan said the province has previously been too focused on one-pillared approaches that created fragmentation.

The evidence-based model is known as a recovery or therapeutic community that offers holistic, long-term, residential treatment for mental health and substance abuse disorders. Participants move at their own pace through the program, and are able to stay from three months to a year.

"The recovery community experience is about far more than abstinence from drug use, although that is obviously essential," Premier Jason Kenney said.

"It's about confronting the realities of life, learning how to cope with them and becoming a strong, fully functioning person."

The announcement was peppered with reference to a recent audit of the ARCHES supervised consumption site in Lethbridge, which found $1.6 million of public money unaccounted for. The province has pulled funding from the organization and referred the matter to police.

"That's also why our government is determined to provide a real life-giving alternative, an alternative through a continuum of care," Kenney said.

The premier also cited the findings made by a government-appointed panel on supervised consumption sites, which focused on the economic and social impacts of the sites but did not address their effect on harm reduction.

Critics have accused the government of ideological opposition to harm reduction for people with addiction.

But Kenney stressed Saturday that the recovery community model was an effective and compassionate alternative.

"I think there's not much compassion in facilitating the disruptive nature of drug addictions," he said. "There is great compassion in offering a holistic alternative, which is exactly what we're doing here today."

The five sites will be operated by non-profit, accredited agencies. The program is publicly funded. 

The government anticipates that the centres will start accepting patients in the spring of 2021. It says about 400 people will be employed during construction and each recovery community will employ 35 to 50 people.

Construction for the treatment centres is part of $10 billion in infrastructure spending within Alberta's Recovery Plan.

With files from Janet French and Hannah Kost


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