Brown says the waiving of user fees needs to be more widely publicized.
“It should have been posted in mental health and addictions offices, down at the safe (consumption) site, Safe Harbour, all the detox centres so that all of the addicts that are struggling would know that this option is available now.”
Historically, Albertans were charged a $40 per day user fee for residential addiction treatment, often paid for privately or covered by Alberta Supports. The waiving of these fees announced on Nov. 6, 2020, for example, would save patients participating in 60-day publicly funded residential addiction treatment roughly $2,400 that they would have paid out of pocket.
This cost is believed to have kept many Albertans from accessing residential addiction treatment, including students, senior citizens, and people in the workforce who make too much to qualify for Income Support, but not enough to pay privately.
The Alberta government introduced a new standardized funding program for licensed agencies providing publicly funded addiction treatment services. The move is hoped to result in better outcomes for Albertans, as well as more consistent and stable funding for operators.
“So if a person was to think about treatment and cost was a barrier, of course you’re going to want to go to a shorter (time frame) treatment centre,” notes Brown. “Well the wait lists there are so long. Some people don’t make it that month that it takes to get in.”
Michelle Kruhlak of Red Deer knows first-hand of one such case.
Her best friend and partner Jeremy Knibbs passed away from an overdose in November, not knowing treatment was within reach.
Kruhlak says Knibbs was supposed to go to treatment last September, but was denied funding and didn’t go.
“If that was around or the funding was able to go through, I believe that he would be alive today,” says Kruhlak. “People that are struggling with addiction and mental health, get the help. It’s available and it is worth it. You don’t want to lose your life over addiction because there’s available help out there.”
Jason Luan, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, acknowledges some Albertans have had to wait for months before receiving treatment.
“As of today, the system is operating in a very different stage. As of today, we believe, within days, people who want access to treatment, they are able to find a spot there,” says Luan.
“We believe government alone cannot change this. We need to work with our partners in the community to fan-out the messages to the public so that they can get the information at the earliest possible time.”
Albertans struggling with addiction can contact the Addiction Helpline at 1-866-332-2322 for support, information and referral to services. The toll-free, confidential helpline operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.