Blue Line

Alberta funds Edmonton police to offer addiction support to people in custody

April 19, 2023  By The Canadian Press

Apr. 19, 2023, Edmonton, Alta. – The Alberta government says it is providing funding to Edmonton police for people in custody to access recovery-oriented health supports.

Nicholas Milliken, minister of mental health and addiction, said the province is to spend $17 million over three years to bring in an additional 14 positions to the police service’s social services program.

“These initiatives are part of a fair, firm and compassionate approach to addressing public safety and treating mental heath and addiction as health care,” Milliken said Wednesday.

Funding is also to go to the newly opened Integrated Care Centre in Edmonton police headquarters downtown, which sees that people detained on public intoxication changes are assessed and provided options for treatment upon release.

“This is for those who are creating a disturbance of some kind or in an altered state by drugs or alcohol who are not permitted into shelters and otherwise would be kept in holding cells,” said Deputy Chief Devin Laforce.

“In cases where such individuals don’t have anyone to provide them care upon release from custody, the ICC gives them time and space to recover, to connect with professional care and be offered voluntary supports such as enrolment in the virtual opioid dependency program.”

Enyinnah Okere, Edmonton police’s chief operations officer, said that those in custody are to be connected with a social support worker for resources such as housing and addiction treatment.

“So whether it be housing, whether it be long-term detox or what that might look like, now they have a smooth handoff to an actual practitioner who is able to now transition them into the kind of the social services that they need,” Okere said.

Edmonton police say 30 people have gone through the Integrated Care Centre since it opened on March 29.

Petra Schulz, co-founder of Moms Stop the Harm, a group that advocates ending the stigma around substance use and supports a harm reduction approach for addiction, said that she has concerns about the program.

“People should not be in custody for intoxication,” said Schulz in a phone interview. “Locking people up for what is essentially a health condition is never the answer. If you arrest people under the guise of helping them, then we are really taking the wrong approach.”

Schulz said many people who use drugs have had negative experiences in the health-care and justice systems, making them less likely to trust authority and seek help.

She also said that more supports need to be available for people after they have completed treatment.

“We have people whose children die right out of treatment,” said Schulz, adding that when people don’t have housing after being in care, they’re more likely to relapse. “That is not a recovery-oriented system.”

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