Province seeking 50 new beds for those with meth, opioid, alcohol addictions

A leading addictions support expert says 50 new beds for meth, opioid and alcohol cases coming to the province this winter will help with relapses, but that the government's approach is still inadequate for long-term recovery.

Announcement follows up a promise made in provincial budget this spring

Saskatchewan Health Minister Jim Reiter said the province is seeing more of a demand related to two types of drugs: crystal meth and opioids. (Don Somers/CBC)

Fifty new beds to help people with drug and alcohol addictions are coming to Saskatchewan with the aim of reducing relapses, according to the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

The beds will fill the gap after a person finishes detox but doesn't yet have a spot in residential treatment, said an SHA news release. They are specifically meant for people who do not have stable or safe housing during that time or once they're done treatment.

Investing in people who need help during these times is significant, said Dr. Peter Butt, a leading addictions specialist in Saskatchewan. 

"It's a high-relapse period of time. We lose many, many people," Butt said on CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.

Butt said the new beds, where people will be able to deal with triggers and core issues, are a much better alternative than couch-surfing at crack houses or living on the streets.

A request for proposals, open to the private and public sectors, will close at the end of the month. The health authority says the goal is to have the beds operational this winter.

Butt said the only comparable service offered now is when rehabs leave beds open for people a few extra weeks after their initial treatment.

"But that's not the norm. So there are a lot of people who go through detox and they're sent back out on the streets waiting for the treatment bed," Butt said.

Speaking to CBC on Monday, Health Minister Jim Reiter said the province is seeing more of a demand related to two types of drugs.

"Crystal meth has become a huge problem in the province over a number of years. Opioids, of course, is a problem right across the country."

Crystal meth is a "huge" problem in Saskatchewan, Reiter says. (Ralph Orlowski/Reuters)

Reiter said the new beds are a part of an investment into addictions treatment announced in the provincial budget this spring.

"It's an issue that all provinces are grappling with as this problem becomes more prevalent. I think, though, you're going to see us make this a priority in the upcoming years as well."

Butt is critical of the short duration of all steps of detox, rehab and these new beds. All told, it would top out at several months, even though it takes 12 months to consider someone as being in "sustained remission."

"If we compare this to cancer, we don't stop part way and say, 'That's enough, that's good enough,' even though the evidence suggests it should be more, and turn people lose to deal with their cancer on their own," he said.

If the province is serious about recovery, there should be supports the whole way through those first 12 months of the addiction recovery journey, he said.

When the government announced the treatment beds in March, finance critic Trent Wotherspoon said longer rehab and treatment are what's needed, particularly with crystal meth.


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