Pubdate: Fri, 24 Nov 2006
Source: Lethbridge Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2006 The Lethbridge Herald
Author: Dave Mabell


Many people realize Alberta has a drug problem, with cocaine trading 
in downtown Lethbridge and drug dealers gunned down in Calgary.

Not so many realize there are serious efforts, right here in 
Lethbridge, to reduce the harm caused by substance abuse of all 
kinds. But now a group of front-line agencies is responding to those 
issues and Susan Canning says the new Community Substance Abuse 
Response Team is part of a new, province-wide initiative.

"Lethbridge is a good place to live," says Canning, manager at the 
Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission here. "We want to work 
closely as agencies to make sure we don't have the same problems in 
Lethbridge that some communities like Fort McMurray are experiencing."

That's why Canning and her staff have been working with nearly a 
score of Lethbridge-area organizations over the last few years to set 
up the response team. Its role was outlined earlier this week - 
Addictions Awareness Week across Canada - and hockey fans will learn 
more about additions and the local response team during the 
Lethbridge Hurricanes game Saturday.

Lethbridge-area people will hear more about the team, she adds, 
through ongoing projects like "Sober Check Stop" where volunteers 
will hand out information to drivers who don't attract police 
officers' attention during the seasonal stops.

"When you have a number of agencies working together, you can do so 
much more," she adds.

While Lethbridge has more addiction-related agencies than many 
communities, Canning says the city faces many of the same challenges 
as others when it comes to substance abuse. Nor is it the first to 
put together a response team.

"There are about 50 coalitions formed across the province now," 
including teams in Taber, Fort Macleod and Claresholm.

Canning says the first were formed several years ago in central 
Alberta communities facing a particular concern: crystal meth.

"When crystal meth comes in, it has huge impacts on the community," she says.

Schools, businesses and law enforcement agencies suddenly see those 
impacts, she points out.

"It hits quickly," Canning says. "It's ugly. It's not like alcohol," 
which may take many years to become a problem for some people.

What's more, she says crystal meth (like some other drugs, including 
crack cocaine) can cause users to become very aggressive.

"That's very hard for the family to deal with," and for emergency 
responders as well.

While meth hasn't become the most-used street drug in Lethbridge, 
Canning says cocaine is second only to cannabis when it comes to 
availability downtown. While police enforcement is part of the 
community response, Canning says education - starting at elementary 
school level - is another tool in reducing abuse.

Treatment and harm reduction are the other "pillars" in the response 
team's program, and Canning is looking forward to new youth treatment 
facilities opening here next spring. Meanwhile, she's hoping to see 
more response teams formed in southwestern Alberta.

Youth and parents are welcome to join the response teams, she adds, 
with more information available from her (at AADAC, 381-5183) or from 
response team co-chair John La Forest at South Country Treatment 
Centre, 329-6603.

And while it's not really a "substance," Canning says response team 
members are all too aware of the dangers posed by gambling, 
especially for young people. With high-stakes poker on TV and online 
gambling readily available, many more Albertans could become addicted.

"It could explode."
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