During a City of Cold Lake council meeting held on Dec. 12 representatives from the Cold Lake John Howard Society stood before the council, shedding light on the concerning shift in the health and well-being of the individuals who access their services. 

Staff members at the non-profit organization have witnessed a notable rise in concerning behaviours among those accessing their services over the past few months, sparking concern among John Howard Society workers regarding the escalating drug use in the city. 

Candace Sutterfield, the John Howard Society board chair, highlighted the staggering impact of methamphetamine use within the community, stating, “The meth use in our community is off the charts, with 90 per cent of individuals out of 100 per cent of everyone in our shelter, I think it would be safe to say 97 per cent suffer from meth induced psychosis.” 

While the John Howard Society may offer detox services in certain regions, their primary focus remains rehabilitation and reintegration, aiming for a comprehensive approach addressing the root causes of addiction to facilitate positive societal reintegration. 

Leona Heisler, the program manager at John Howard, echoed concerns, saying that staff and other service providers are noting a difference in individuals.

“Ambulance drivers have noticed it as well when we call the ambulance on the weekend, and they think it’s [meth] being mixed with benzos, and they’ve noticed the change in the agitation and aggression as well with the individuals that they are picking up,” said Heisler. 

The strain of repeated assistance without visible change has led professionals to feel exhausted. Sutterfield emphasized the severity, highlighting the need for increased safety measures. 

While RCMP are supportive and helpful, they too are feeling the strain of responding to repeated calls regarding the same individuals at the John Howard facility. 

“I’m sure the hospitals feel the same way, even my office as well – if [individuals] do get banned or ‘grounded’ three days, five days, a week, whatever that may look like – we came to the point where we actually had to get glass in our foyer for [safety],” says Sutterfield.

Maria McKenzie, a nurse with Alberta Health Services (AHS) in Edmonton, echoed many of the concerns that had been shared during the council meeting.

“The reports I’ve been hearing, particularly from Cold Lake, show a dire picture. I think that this new drug problem, which seems to be coming from Edmonton, is rapidly expanding and could soon become a concern in other provinces as well,” says McKenzie.

Sutterfield emphasized the abruptness of the drug’s arrival, noting its swift expansion into Cold Lake within a span of about three months.   

“It just makes it way up. I know for myself that I was downtown Edmonton here not so long ago, and to see the amount of use and the type of use really surprised me because we weren’t seeing it yet, and it slowly made its way here. Well, not really slowly, I guess it took about three months, but it’s here.” 

Expressing a sense of overwhelm, Sutterfield acknowledged the worsening situation despite extensive outreach efforts, stressing the need for decisive action, including the establishment of a detox facility.  

Since meeting with council, Sutterfield has been thinking about what could be done differently, and she admits she is not sure, but a safe place for people to detox is top of mind. 

“I’ve been reaching out to other organizations as well, and I personally feel at this point we need to do a detox or even somewhere for the individuals to dry out for a few days.” 

Currently, individuals seeking detox often have to travel to Edmonton or Meadow Lake, Sask., Locally, the Elk Point Healthcare Centre primarily focuses on alcohol abuse and offers limited support for other substances. 

As the Dec. 12 delegation with council wrapped up, the lack of a detox centre in the region was noted as a key concern, underlining the escalating challenges in managing drug-related issues. 

City of Cold Lake Coun. Chris Vining expressed the wide-ranging impact of the challenges, stating, “It is causing massive challenges across the board, and I wish there was some sort of silver bullet to get us out of this.” 

By Chantel Downes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Dec 23, 2023 at 17:13

This item reprinted with permission from   Lakeland This Week   Bonnyville, Alberta

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