Alberta government tackles addiction with 400 treatment beds at five new 'recovery communities'

The Alberta government is investing $25 million to build five new addiction treatment centres based on a model used in Portugal and dozens of other countries.

'It's a method of recovery that helped save my life'

Sheldon Bailey said a long-term commitment and peer support are key ingredients to beat addiction. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

The Alberta government is investing $25 million to build five new addiction treatment centres based on a model used in Portugal and dozens of other countries.

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.

Locations are still being finalized but the recovery communities will provide 400 additional treatment beds — increasing capacity by 30 per cent — where participants can stay from three months to a year.

"They take a holistic approach to treatment, focusing on the mind, body and spirit," Jason Luan, associate minister of mental health and addictions, said at the announcement Wednesday.

"Participants at the facility have the opportunity to relearn and re-establish social functioning, employment skills and positive community and family ties — encouraged by their peers ... where participants support one another in their path to recovery.

After completing treatment, participants will be connected with ongoing support to help ensure long-term recovery. 

More than 65 countries use the evidence based approach — including the highly regarded model in Portugal, Luan said.

Beating addiction requires a long term commitment.- Sheldon Bailey, person in recovery

Sheldon Bailey said the focus on long-term health and wellness will help change lives for Albertans battling addiction, and their families.

Bailey said his downward spiral into cocaine, crystal meth and fentanyl began after a doctor prescribed clonazepam to help him cope with anxiety in the corporate world.

In December 2015, Bailey hit rock bottom and decided he no longer wanted to hurt himself or his loved ones.

Bailey checked into a detox centre followed by 18 days of treatment. When he relapsed, he went to a second treatment centre. This time he stayed connected for a year.

"I realized that beating addiction requires a long-term commitment," Bailey said. "There I learned that peer support from others in recovery is vital. Sadly far too many people have not been given the opportunity for long-term care."

Earl Thiessen was once homeless and addicted to alcohol and pharmaceuticals.

Twelve years later he is the director of Oxford House Foundation of Canada — a peer supported recovery and housing organization based in Calgary.

"It's a method of recovery that helped save my life," Thiessen said.

He said living with like-minded individuals in recovery allows participants to open up about the trauma and reasons that led to using alcohol and drugs.

"Recovery communities are going to provide people with the opportunity to develop self-esteem, self-worth and the ability to make thoughtful, beneficial decisions to move forward in their lives," Thiessen said. "And how to deal with pressure situations with a positive response instead of a negative reaction."
Once addicted, Earl Thiessen now runs a peer recovery and housing organization. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

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

Construction is part of more than $10 billion in infrastructure spending announced as part of the province's recovery plan, Luan said.

The government anticipates that the centres will start accepting patients early next year. 

The province says about 400 people will be employed during the construction of the centres and each recovery community will employ 35 to 50 people.