Original Published on Nov 07, 2022 at 19:00

Elizabeth Fry Society of Peterborough Ontario addiction support program recognized at international conference

By Brendan Burke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

When individuals struggling with substance abuse are admitted to the hospital  following an overdose or addiction-related health issues, they’re often left  asking themselves: what now? 

That’s why the Elizabeth Fry Society of Peterborough, with funding from  Health Canada, launched A Different Approach in 2020 — a peer-led substance use  and addiction program that supports individuals in the emergency room and  beyond. 

“When the medical emergency is over, people are often left with no support,”  said Debbie Carriere, executive director at the Elizabeth Fry Society of  Peterborough. 

Through the program, referrals are made by hospital staff, police and  emergency services, social service agencies and individuals. Substance users are  then connected with peer workers — all of whom have lived experience with  substance use and addiction. 

From there, peer workers provide support to program participants based on  their self-identified needs — connecting them with counselling and  rehabilitation services, harm reduction supports or simply helping individuals  navigate services, such as making medical appointments or obtaining  identification.

The idea is to facilitate wraparound supports once substance users are out of  a medical setting and back in the community — helping them access services that  often come with barriers. 

Peers within the program regularly attend Peterborough Regional Health Centre  — a key partner — to check in on patients who may need assistance. The  initiative may also see participants referred to Redpath programming, a  treatment model provided through Peterborough’s Right to Heal. 

With the program exceeding expectations, Carriere was invited to speak about  its success at an international conference organized by Health Canada and the  Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe in Ottawa on Oct. 25. 

The conference brought together drug policy-makers, along with people with  lived experience, to raise awareness about the drivers and impacts of substance  use stigma and focused on reducing stigma.

In addition to highlighting the success of “A Different Approach” — nearly  700 people have been assisted through the program during its first 18 months,  outpacing the initial goal of 500 over four years — Carriere spoke about how the  program works to address entrenched stigma in the health-care system and society  at large. Carrier was joined by Peer Support Programs Manager Chelsey  McGowan.

“The inclusion of professionals with lived experience in our program is  invaluable. It allows for connection, and, in turn, advocacy for the removal of  structural stigma within systems like health care and justice,” said  McGowan.

Carrier told The Examiner that the program aims to overturn long-standing  stigmas. 

“It’s common across hospitals. Once someone is identified as a substance  user, they’re treated differently … the level of care is different,” Carrier  said.

Carrier has faced the hurdles propped up by stigma firsthand. In 2006,  following a traumatic event, Carrier fell into the throes of addiction and ended  up in the hospital.

“I had done a placement as a Masters student in psychology in the hospital  where I ended up. Once they decided I had drugs in my system, even though I had  clear mental-health issues and physical injuries, they told my mom to go home  and I would be fine if I just slept it off,” she recalled.

“That’s where this project came from. We know how it feels to be there. I  desperately wanted help and they wouldn’t help me. That’s why I say this is a  heart-led project.” 

Almost a decade later, Carrier, who credits her recovery to Redpath, says  it’s a privilege to walk alongside program participants as a “small part of  their journey.”

Health Canada’s four-year funding for A Different Approach is set to expire  in 2024, but Carrier is working to extend the funding. 

“We’re looking at ways to fund it beyond 2024 because it’s been hugely  impactful in our community.”    

This item reprinted with permission from   The Peterborough Examiner   Peterborough, Ontario

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