Reducing Harms, Building Community

How to access substance use care

By Elsa Mann

Is it time to have a conversation about your substance use? 

Let’s talk about what does – and doesn’t happen – when rural Wellington residents reach out for support through primary care.

Substance use can be difficult to talk about, especially if you’re struggling. At our rural Family Health Teams, we have these conversations every day. 

“It requires vulnerability to address substance use concerns,” says Jodi Colwill, a nurse practitioner with the Minto-Mapleton Family Health Team.

Some people start with our outreach workers, while others prefer to start with their family doctor. We commit to judgement-free conversations, no matter what steps a person decides to take. No one is ever forced into a treatment program, and there is no cost for this service.

What does it mean to receive substance use supports? For many people, it isn’t realistic to completely stop using substances. Our team talks to each person about their goals, whatever they may be. 

“Whatever the person’s goal is, that is what we will work on with them,” says Brenda Atkin, therapist with Homewood Community Addictions Services (CADS), who works out of the family health team in Mount Forest and Drayton.

Often, we connect community members to services where they learn new skills to help them moderate or cut down on their substance use. This approach is known as “harm reduction.” It means we explore practical steps to minimize the risks associated with substance use.

“We meet patients where they are, without judgment, so that together we can explore practical steps to minimize the risks,” says Dr. Darin Lin, with Arthur Family Practice.

Unlike larger city centres, rural residents sometimes face additional barriers to accessing services. Transportation, gas money and time away from work can limit them from taking next steps. Rural outreach workers from the Rural Wellington Community Team and our partners at Stonehenge Therapeutic Community and Sanguen Outreach know the challenges of rural living well. We work with community members who face barriers to accessing services and come up with solutions together.   

Stigma remains one of the biggest barriers to comfortably accessing services, and we often hear that people are worried about their confidentiality in smaller communities. Our providers believe addiction health care is like any other health care service, and we do our best to make people feel safe and comfortable by co-locating services and supports so it feels less conspicuous. 

“In Arthur, our clinic is co-located with our library, a physiotherapy clinic, family practice and Family Health Team. Clients can access services in a barrier-free manner, without disclosing their reason for the visit to other members of the community,” says Dr. Paul Jones from Arthur Family Practice. “We can also connect people to services in neighbouring areas or virtually to reduce barriers or stigma.”

Talking to a professional about substance use is not an easy conversation, but we are ready to meet anyone where they are at. 

If you feel comfortable, a conversation with your family doctor or nurse practitioner is a great place to start. If you don’t have a health care provider, or you still don’t feel comfortable starting there, reach out to the Rural Wellington Community Team by calling/texting 519-321-1181 or to learn about other rural supports, visit

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Elsa Mann is team lead for the Rural Wellington Community Team, Mount Forest Family Health Team. This column is presented by the Wellington Guelph Drug Strategy and its community partners with the goal of informing the public and helping to prevent harm from substance use.