B.C. woman’s journey to sobriety highlights the need for drug treatment

Eight years after B.C. declared a public health emergency due to the toxic drug crisis one woman recovering from addiction says she is an example that the right treatment can work.

Heather, who Global News agreed not to identify, says she was first introduced to drugs as a child and was a runaway at 14.

“Sometimes somebody will offer you drugs and it is a quick and easy alternative to being hungry, to being cold, to being afraid,” she said.

“At one point I ended up working in the sex trade, the underage sex trade, just to be able to survive.”

After two traumatic decades on the street and several attempts to access treatment, in 2021 the Union Gospel Mission’s Women and Families Centre took her in.

Heather is now clean and sober but says it took too long to find help.

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“I knew that when I needed help, and I asked for help, and I reached out for help, I didn’t get the help that I needed,” she said.

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Heather’s story highlights what some advocates say is the failure to prioritize one of the four pillars of Canada’s drug strategy: treatment.

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“They think that if somebody is struggling with addiction and wants to get better they just show up at detox and three days later they go to a treatment center and if they really wanted it, it would be as simple as that,” said Nicole Mucci, spokesperson for the Union Gospel Mission.

“But that’s not the case and that’s not the reality,”

As the debate rages about harm reduction and decriminalization, there is no doubt that treatment can save lives, she added.

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“Every single time there is one more bed available that is one more life that can be saved,” Mucci said.

B.C. Mental Health and Addictions Minister Jennifer Whiteside said the province has added close to 600 new beds over the past few years.

“We have many more outpatient supports and services and virtual supports for people now,” she said.

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The Union Gospel Mission’s Women and Families Centre houses everything in one place for someone going through the treatment journey.

The first floor is dedicated to resourcing. The next two levels are for recovery. When women are ready to move into transitional housing units, those are located on the next three floors. And the top level is a daycare centre for women living with their children.

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“They make it so comfortable and so safe. Like, you’d have to try to fail here,” Heather said.

She added that without long-term treatment options, the toxic drug crisis will continue and stories like hers will be the exception to the rule.

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