OPINION: Thanks, but addiction funding did not go far enough

For me, the letdown was like ordering a bestselling book and getting just the first chapter in the mail.

A good start, but nothing close to what I wanted.

Local mental health workers probably felt the same after the Ontario government announced last week Sarnia is getting a temporary, 12-bed residential facility for residents to recover from drug and alcohol addictions.

Michael Tibollo, Ontario’s Associate Minister of Mental Health & Addictions, held a news conference on Zoom to say his government found $325,000 to fund the facility for three months.

That’s right. This community has spent 20 years pushing for a 24-bed, $8.8-million rehabilitation centre. What we received last week was $325,000 to fund a 12-bed house until the end of March.

Understandably, local political leaders and addiction workers were effusive in their thanks and praised the Ford government for providing a stopgap measure to help Sarnia’s struggling addicts during a pandemic lockdown.

And there’s no doubt, we are grateful. But this was hardly the big announcement Sarnia-Lambton had been waiting for.

It’s been two decades since Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley, Bluewater Health and others began lobbying for a permanent residential program offering long-term rehabilitation to the shockingly high number of local residents with drug addictions.

While other jurisdictions have residential facilities that offer extended support and a myriad of wrap-around services to help people escape the drug culture and get on the road to full recovery, Sarnia is left to manage with a seven-bed detox unit at Bluewater Health.

No one wants to seem ungrateful – it is much better than nothing – but a detox unit and a few days of first-step assistance falls dramatically short of what’s needed.

Once out of detox, most addicts have nowhere to go. They drift back to former lifestyles and relapse.

To the hospital’s great credit, the 12-bed supervised house at 306 Exmouth St. could be up and running by next week, providing a safe refuge for some fresh out of detox.

The hospital already leased a house near Norm Perry Park, which has been used as a group home and lends itself nicely to this temporary facility.

And it’s good news, especially for the 93 people turned away from the hospital’s detox unit in December.

But it isn’t enough. And there’s always a danger the province will feel it’s addressed the problem and forget about the long-planned 24-bed facility and related services we need to help the addicted get well.

Nor is it written in stone the Ford government will continue to fund the Exmouth Street house after March.

Everyone involved says they are impressed with the interest Associate Minister Tibollo is taking in Sarnia’s drug problem. They say they’re counting on him to ensure the funding continues next fiscal year.

They also say they will continue pushing for the 24-bed facility, the one every study ever done says this community needs.

“We’ll be back to them and we’ll be very vocal,” Mayor Bradley promised. “This is an interim solution. Our goal is still a permanent facility.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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