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Expert says punitive measures may not help fight addiction in Lethbridge

Expert says punitive measures may not help fight addiction in Lethbridge
WATCH: Like many other cities, Lethbridge has a number of citizens who have battled, or are battling, addiction, especially in relation to opioids. Taz Dhaliwal reaches out to some marginalized individuals to hear how social supports have helped them.

Alvin Mills, a Lethbridge resident and Blood Tribe member, once struggled with alcohol addiction, and now he’s helping others with their own road to recovery.

He strongly believes addiction is a social problem and not a criminal one.

Mills has been sober for eight years now and he operates his own grassroots program called Kii Maa Pii Pii Tsin Renewal and Healing Centre, which he’s been running for two years.

Kii Maa Pii Pii Tsin, which translates to “kindness to others,” is also known as the Foundation of Hope.

READ MORE: Struggling with an addiction in Canada? These resources can help

Mills’ foundation recently received official charitable status, which means the organization can now begin to collect donations and government grants.

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He wants to use the funds to help marginalized people struggling with addiction, homelessness and mental health in Lethbridge and on the Blood Tribe.

“When they know someone cares, that makes a lot of difference for them.

“They’re on the street right now and the streets are unforgiving,” Mills said. “It’s a hard life, especially when you’re struggling with the drugs.”

Blood Tribe member offers help to Southern Albertans struggling with addiction amid COVID-19 pandemic
Blood Tribe member offers help to Southern Albertans struggling with addiction amid COVID-19 pandemic

One of the people Mills provides supports to is BJ Saosay, who is currently battling an addiction to meth and opioids.

“Basically, it [the addiction to drugs] started in 2005 when I was incarcerated in Drumheller, Alta., and then when I got out into the streets, it just kind of carried on from there and it’s pretty much been constant ever since.”
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Soasay says he turned to drugs because it helped him forget about hardships in his life.

He adds he was able to receive some social supports while in prison, such as his high school diploma, however he was surprised how easy it was to get drugs inside.

READ MORE: Blood Tribe member offers help to southern Albertans dealing with addictions amid COVID-19 pandemic

Andrews Wells Jr. considers himself to be lucky, as he recently overcame his addiction to opioids.

“I had a support system — my family, my parents helped me out with my addictions, get me stronger and my community — I had elders talk to me, support workers.”

READ MORE: Elliot, an alcoholic, asked his parole officer for help. She sent him back to prison

A local assistant professor of Sociology, and chair of the Sociology department at the University of Lethbridge, says when it comes to dealing with intertwined issues such as addiction, homelessness and mental health, having strong societal connections and supports can be more effective than punitive measures.

“In making sure that our most marginalized community members and communities had appropriate levels of housing supports, of health and mental health supports, access to transportation, we simply wouldn’t see the kind of outcomes that we’re seeing,” said Jason Laurendeau.

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He adds that a tough-on-crime approach may not always yield the best results.