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.”