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Guelph Wellington Drug Strategy: Helping people find their way

by Mike Robinson

GUELPH - Raechelle Devereaux says she could not have anticipated the success of the Guelph Wellington Drug Strategy.

As manager of the group, she said in its short history it has forged numerous partnerships across the county. In 2006 Ontario Works had funding for an addiction service. The provincial initiative recognized many of the same folks using Ontario Works were struggling with addiction.

“When we received that funding, it coincided with a lot of negative media attention regarding an influx of crack cocaine in the community,” she said.

One newspaper reported Guelph had a drug problem.

Devereaux said the community saw an opportunity “to shift the focus on what we as a community can do to respond.”

It started with a forum to discover what were seen as the many parts of the problem of addiction in Guelph and Wellington County, she said, adding, “The outcome and recommendations which came from that, looked to communities such as Vancouver and Toronto which embraced the four pillar drug strategy model which recognizes no one sector can effectively respond to the issue of substance abuse in isolation.”

Those are enforcement, treatment, harm reduction and prevention.

“Each of those four pillars play a vital role in the community to work together, almost like puzzle pieces, to respond to the issue,” Devereaux said.

At that time, Devereaux worked in the child welfare sector. “Essentially, if you could imagine every organization that touches substance use - they were there.”

Funding allowed hiring a contract person to do a needs assessment.

Devereaux said that put meat on the bare bones (information from the community forum) and examined the issues being faced in this community which are contributing to issues of drug use.

Devereaux said, “We heard there was an issue with opiate misuse - which can include prescribed painkillers.”

When the information was collected, the committee drafted a report for change.

In 2009 marked the committee crafted the drug strategy report and put it out in the community, presenting it to municipal leaders and school boards, police and politicians. The group then sought endorsement from Guelph and Wellington County councils.

“We never could have predicted the way things have gone.”

Devereaux explained that under the strategy of reducing opiate misuse, there was  a medical working group that included a pharmacist, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Mount Forest Family Health Team and Public Health.

“They knew physicians were prescribing opiates and asked what education was in place.”

She stressed it was not about telling people what to do, but that there was more information available.

Since that time, the province has written and released its own guidelines.

The group got in touch with the physician from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health who had written 10 simple guidelines.

The strategy committee held a physician mail out with that information and included additional resources such as where physicians could refer patients to get help. At the same time, the group developed blue addiction cards, which list services and contact numbers.

The idea of a physicians’ dinner came to include a speaker who could further the dialogue at a local level and connect with doctors and possibly provide additional guidance, Devereaux said.

Keynote speaker Dr. Roman Jovey focussed “on the need to really pay attention to their patients - to essentially enter into a contract with those patients before entering a prescribing relationship,” said Devereaux.

“What he really cautioned against is taking the route of deciding to never prescribing opiates.”

Quoting Jovey, Devereaux said, “Opiate prescriptions are a problem, opiate addiction is a problem; but so is under-treated pain. So we need to keep this in perspective. If we respond with fear, we are doing a disservice as well.”

Shortly thereafter, the College of Physicians and Surgeons announced its training mechanism for physicians as well in different communities. The local committee offered to partner with the college to host a local session.

Close to 100 pharmacists and physicians ended up taking training.

“The answers were not simple. It was a recognition that this is challenging work.”

Devereaux said when the process began officials could not imagine two years later hosting an event with 100 doctors and pharmacists.

She noted another phenomenal success of the group is the initiative to expand drug prevention programs that work.

“We learned that  Family and Children’s Services was running a program called Strengthening Families for the Future,” she said.

That program was being run once or twice each year, but was accessible only to people involved with child welfare.

“What partnering allows, is a broadening of the accessibility,” Devereaux said.

Family and Children’s Services were thrilled with the opportunity of a partnership.

The program costs about $10,000 to run because it provides families with a meal, a parent program, a child program, and for those with small children, babysitting also comes into play, in addition to removing barriers such as transportation.

“But sometimes programs that do work, still struggle for funding.”

And prevention programs may not be funded in the same way treatment programs might be.

Devereaux said sometimes when there is a glaring problem, a program to fix it might get greater funding than a program to prevent that problem.

She cited strong ties to the enforcement partners - the Guelph Police and the Wellington OPP. Through them, she learned about the Proceeds of Crime grant that focuses on youths and crime prevention.

“What that allowed us to do was to provide funding for the Families and Schools Together program to run in three additional schools, and allowed us to run five additional Strengthening Families for the Future programs.”

There had been two in Mount Forest and one in Fergus, and two others were in Guelph.

Strengthening Families for the Future is a 14-week program. At one session there was a public health nurse, an  addiction therapist, a women’s violence counsellor and a child welfare worker.

Not only does that group deliver a program, but when problems arise, there is a complete mix of skills to respond and connect to families.

“In my opinion, these are prevention programs which work and are evidence based. Not only do they reduce drug use, they reduce stress in families. They support children and continuing education.”

Devereaux asked “If these outcomes abound, why do these programs have to beg for money? Why are they not funded universally? When can we accept this is the way we need to shift?”

She said OPP Inspector Scott Smith told her it is something he agrees with and invited her to present it to the Wellington County Police Services Board to request funding. A similar request was made to the Guelph Police Services Board.

However, she added it would not be fair to ask police to fund the whole thing. The request moved to Wellington County council in June and was approved.

That means preparations for a winter program in Mount Forest and working with the Upper Grand District School Board to run programs in Arthur and Fergus as well.

Devereaux hopes that in the spirit of the four-pillar model of the drug strategy and enforcement already on board, all of government can respond to drug and crime prevention in the same way.

“It’s not just one person’s responsibility, or one organization or sector,” she said.

She believes those discussions are moving ahead as she works to create sustainable funding.

“We have the infrastructure to run these programs; we have the partners on board ... We have to seize this opportunity to deliver great services to the community. I think we’ll be able to do that.”

Devereaux said the group is involved in some “fun things” as well. On Sept. 24 it is  entering a team in the 5km run at the Guelph Community Health Centre. The team is set to include Inspector Scott Smith, representatives of the Guelph police and executive directors of various partner agencies.

“It’s a great team, including youth, who will be running together to raise awareness of the need for drug prevention - the kind that works. But it is also to raise some funds. Certainly fundraising through our run is not going to sustain our efforts, but it will raise awareness and provide a bit of funding for meals for families when they come to the groups. I really think this is really about the engagement of the ebbs and flows of our community.”

She believes, “We have an opportunity to really make change, and have demonstrated that by some of the things we’ve been able to accomplish.

Something important is to hear from the people with lived experience (people who have lived with addiction related issues) - and to involve them in the process in a meaningful way, Devereaux explained.

The committee represents about 25 organizations as well as members of the lived experience community. As time progress more groups want to get involved.

Devereaux cited a recent meeting with a professor from the University of Guelph who is interested in incorporating the drug strategy and the four pillar model into her criminology course.

“We have an opportunity to share our stories, but also show the strength of the four pillar approach to 175 third year students in the university program,” she said.

In addition, Devereaux hopes to utilize some of that group’s research and integrate it into the drug strategy committee’s work. This fall, she said the group will unveil a website, which is “an opportunity to showcase the work and the partnerships on an infinite level.”

She said the Strengthening Families story has grown from looking at the community and its programs, and now blossomed into a collaboration of organizations in the community.

Devereaux will share that story at the Issues of Substance conference in Vancouver this fall. “It allows us to showcase the leadership of Wellington County and what can be accomplished through collaboration.”

She said her work in the field of child welfare for about 10 years allowed her to see “how addiction issues can have an enormous impact on families.

“My practice in child welfare became quite focussed with addiction issues and I took on cases which had an addiction aspect to it.”

Then she moved into management, which gave her a chance to share her knowledge.

When she completed her Masters of Social Work, she did it on a part-time basis. The program at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo allowed her to focus her learning a way she wanted to.

“It was a great opportunity to participate at the drug strategy committee at its inception because it was something I was excited about,” she said.

She said her shift from child welfare to her current position gave her a chance to be a part of an important change.

“I see this as the community leading the change and my job is bringing partnerships together and connecting the dots,” she said.

Devereaux grew up in a rural community and as a result, is aware of the impact of youth addiction in a rural setting.

“That experience definitely helps me with a rural Wellington County perspective and an urban climate as well. I hope [the committee’s work]will benefit my kids and the kids of my family and friends, and the entire community.”

She added her undergraduate degree was in international development and community development, “which is exactly what this is; it’s community grassroots change from the bottom up.”

 

September 16, 2011

 
 

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