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The challenge of going clean and sober

Jason Unrau
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 29/06) - Getting clean and sober is a challenge, as one Yellowknife couple discovered during their quest to access treatment for a debilitating crack addiction.

When Dawn first discovered her husband Frank (not their real names) was addicted to crack, it came as a surprise.

"I didn't know until a year-and-a-half into the relationship," said the 24-year-old. "I had people tell me and I didn't believe them but he took off one time, came back a few days later and that's when I found the (crack) pipe."

Despite attempts by her husband to kick the habit, the lure of crack would prove too much.

"He's what you would call a functioning addict," she said. "He'll stay clean for three or four months at a time and then relapse."

And over the course of Frank's drug dependence, Dawn had to put up with many unnerving scenarios.

"It got to the point where people were running after him on the street asking him to get high while I was with him," she recalled.

But last week Dawn said Frank made the decision to get off crack for good.

"Basically my husband finally came down and he said he needed help this time (staying off the drug,)" Dawn said.

So the couple went first to the Salvation Army to try and get a place for Frank in its Withdrawal Management Service (WMS).

But in order for funding to be released to cover WMS costs, Frank needed a referral from either Stanton Territorial Hospital or the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre. Referrals are also required for the Sally Ann's men's residential treatment program (often the next step following successful WMS completion), or Nats'ejee K'eh Treatment Centre in Hay River.

Diane Hrtsic, community wellness and addictions manager with the Tree of Peace, compares the person who decides to get off drugs and believes it can happen immediately to an addict looking to get high and wanting an instant fix.

"(Achieving and maintaining sobriety) is a holistic journey and there is no magic formula," she said. "We wish we had a magic wand to heal people but there isn't one. It's not an instantaneous program."

With the city's array of resources and the problem of drug and alcohol dependency being different for each individual, Hrtsic says that simply signing a referral to residential treatment is not the answer for everyone.

"We want to make sure each client is getting the best treatment for their needs," she said.

While Stanton Territorial Hospital offers a "medical detox" as well, Hrtsic says the common misconception about dealing with an addiction is that detox and residential treatment will solve all dependency issues.

Repeated calls to Stanton to discuss its related resources by Yellowknifer were not returned.

"People don't realize what we've got running in here is treatment," said Hrtsic of all services offered at the Tree of Peace. "When we're working with clients, helping them set goals, that's part of treatment."

Hrtsic added that attending Alcoholics Anonymous; seeing a counsellor at the Tree of Peace, women's shelter or health and social services or even signing up for adult education can all be considered steps towards changing one's life.

Dave Harder, program director for addictions at the Salvation Army, says Yellowknife has ample resources and more money from the government could go a long way towards improving existing options.

"If we all work together, we have the resources, we do not need another building," Harder said. "If we pooled our resources and if the powers that be would invest more money in enhancing programs that are already here we could have one hell of a system."

As for Frank, he got his referral and is participating in the Salvation Army's two-week WMS program, a first step towards getting clean and sober.