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Edmonton-managed alcohol program touts success as Kwanlin Dün prepares own program

As the Kwanlin Dün First Nation in Whitehorse prepares to launch a managed alcohol program, employees in charge of an Edmonton addiction treatment centre say their own program has been a success for clients. 

Employees at Ambrose Place say they have personally seen clients attain complete sobriety from the program

Ambrose Place in Edmonton addresses housing and addiction issues. One of the programs it uses is managed alcohol where clients are provided with medically-prescribed doses of alcohol in order to stabilize drinking patterns. (Submitted by Ross Hodgson)

As the Kwanlin Dün First Nation in Whitehorse prepares to launch a managed alcohol program, employees in charge of an Edmonton addiction treatment centre say their own program has been a success for clients. 

Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced the managed alcohol program earlier this month, saying it would be offered as part of a new eight-bedroom residence called "Sarah's House," scheduled to open this spring. 

The program is closely modelled on a similar program at Ambrose Place in Edmonton, where clients are provided medically-prescribed doses of alcohol in order to stabilize drinking patterns. A team from KDFN traveled to Edmonton to study the program as a way to prepare, Chief Doris Bill previously told CBC. 

Ambrose Place

Carola Cunningham is the CEO of NiGiNan Housing Ventures, which runs Ambrose Place. She told Elyn Jones, the host of Yukon Morning, that managed alcohol works clients away from dangerous consumption. 

"I can tell you this one story about this one fellow that came to us. He came to us about two and a half years ago, and he was drinking all the non-potables like hairspray, rubbing alcohol, shoe polish, whatever he could get his hands on," Cunningham said. 

"He was hugely intoxicated by 10 o'clock in the morning, and then he would interface with police, interfacing with people getting on the bus and just causing a general disturbance in the downtown core."

Staff at Ambrose Place in Edmonton. Several employees say they have seen the success of the managed alcohol program. (Submitted by Ross Hodgson)

The individual was placed on the program where he was consuming 10 per cent alcohol products for a month, she said. This managed to work him off the dangerous non-potable products he was previously consuming. 

He was then placed on a five per cent alcohol program for a year, where he was only consuming beer. 

"Then he came to us and said, 'You know, this alcohol is killing me. I'd really like to try managed cannabis,'" Cunningham said. 

Since then, he's been down to six beers a day. 

"Which is a huge reduction in the two and half years he's been with us," she said. 

Ambrose Place can house about 50 clients, who can stay for as long as they like, and employs 57 workers.

'Help our people' 

Blake Jackman is the program manager at NiGiNan Housing Ventures. 

"I've personally watched people attain complete sobriety after two years of working on a managed alcohol program and reducing their harm slowly over time," he said.

Both Cunningham and Jackman said they are happy to hear Kwanlin Dün First Nation will be running a similar program with Sarah's House. 

"I really think that this is an avenue for Indigenous people across Turtle Island, to learn from them and to help our people gain some control over their drinking," Cunningham said. 

For Jackman, he said he has one piece of advice. 

"I would share that patience is a big part of it," he said. 

"You're not really going to convince anyone to be a part of a program when they don't trust you, when they don't know you and they don't know that you have their best interests in mind."

A similar program was launched in Yellowknife at the outset of the pandemic, and is still going on. 

Interviews by Elyn Jones

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