'Addiction is a mental illness': Lethbridge groups mark National Addictions Awareness Week
This week marks National Addictions Awareness Week, and advocates say the need to highlight the struggles associated with mental illness is more important now than ever.
Addiction is a nation-wide problem that continues to get worse with every passing year.
According to the Alberta Substance Use Surveillance System, 104 people died from drug-related overdoses in the province's South Zone in 2020.
In 2021, there was already 92 overdose-related deaths by August.
Streets Alive Mission is a non-profit organization that helps Lethbridge's most vulnerable population.
Director of operations Cameron Kissick says the group is hoping to highlight the resources available to those who are suffering.
"It's a big problem and it's important that the community at large knows that there are agencies out there trying to help," Kissick told CTV News.
The mission assists Lethbridge's homeless population by giving them clothing and food, as well as providing, or steering them towards, programs that can help with their addictions.
"We do have a men's and women's addiction recovery program; Exodus and Genesis," he said.
The program, also known as Recovery Wednesdays, helps those who are ready for recovery by getting them into a detox program and helping them apply for treatment.
Streets Alive also works closely with other southern Alberta recovery groups like Fresh Start Recovery Lethbridge, a program that treats addiction for exactly what it is; an illness.
"Addiction is a mental illness," said Fresh Start operations manager Tony Kokol.
"Because of that, it's treatable, attainable and sustainable."
Fresh Start is a 14-16 week program for men and women that includes everything from counselling to fitness.
They've been in Lethbridge for just over a year and have already turned people's lives around.
"Some of our participants are already in the community," said Kokol.
"They're living in our second-stage housing, they're working, they come from the street and they're back and paying taxes now."
Fresh Start's program manager Britt Isenor says the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for those dealing with addiction.
"One thing with the pandemic has been isolation, and with isolation, use increases," she said.
"So there's lots of people who have fallen off the radar because of the pandemic."
Because of this, Isenor and Fresh Start believe that awareness is the biggest step a community can take when helping individuals suffering from this debilitating illness.
"There's a lot of fear when people don't understand addiction and what it looks like, so by raising awareness, that's going to increase the care and compassion to those affected by it."
For more information on National Addiction Awareness Week you can visit the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction's website.
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