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Atikokan vying for treatment facility for area youths

FORT FRANCES—On behalf of a small group in his town, Atikokan Mayor Dennis Brown addressed members of the Rainy River District Substance Abuse Prevention Team on Tuesday asking for their support of a proposal for an addictions treatment centre there.

“Since the number of youth involved in illicit narcotics and prescription drug use in the Rainy River District, including Atikokan, is rising, there is a need for such a facility dedicated to youth,” Mayor Brown said in his presentation.

“We were wondering if there was something more we could do,” he added, noting the local Parents Against Illicit Narcotics group spoke to them this past June.

“That’s when the thought of a treatment centre arose.”

The Atikokan group is looking to establish at least a 10-bed residential treatment centre by either renovating an existing facility or constructing a brand new building.

While decisions have not yet been made, the facility likely would service youths under the age of 18 residing in either Rainy River District or Northwestern Ontario.

The closest residential treatment centres to Rainy River District are in Thunder Bay and Portage La Prairie, Man.

However, the Smith Centre in Thunder Bay offers the only program in the province that provides residential addiction services to youths aged 12-17.

While there are programs for kids 16 year and over, only the Smith Clinic which has beds for those under 16.

“We hope that a partnership of some type can be developed with the Smith Centre of Thunder Bay so that their expertise and experience can be utilized in the Atikokan facility,” Mayor Brown noted.

Mayor Brown, along with Garry McKinnon of the Atikokan Economic Development Corp., recently met with the manager of Addictions Services at the Smith Clinic to gain knowledge on how it is run.

For instance, the Smith Centre requires those seeking services to participate in a program for up to three months prior to spending the five weeks required for the residential treatment.

There also is a follow-up program for up to three months once the individual has been released.

Mayor Brown proposed the Atikokan Treatment Centre would hold the same requirements.

He added they also plan to have all the required staff at the treatment centre, including counsellors, doctors, nurses, and follow-up care.

He explained although the facility would be geared for youths with drug addictions and alcohol abuse, it would have the resources to treat other mental health issues that often go along with addictions.

“It is planned to have a Youth Counselling Service as part of the facility or by working with other agencies to address outpatient counselling, pre/post treatment counselling, relapse prevention, advocacy and support for parents and caregivers, local psychiatric support, and intervention service,” the proposal read.

In addition, Mayor Brown noted they also would like to have an integrated approach to services through Rainy River District hospitals and Family Health Teams to develop and ensure appropriate medical care for withdrawal management issues for youth.

“We need the support from all groups in the Rainy River District,” he stressed. “We want every partner on board in the region to be supportive. . . . We want to do this right.”

But Mayor Brown admitted there are several challenges associated with constructing a residential treatment centre in Atikokan, such as funding and the demand.

He said he learned there are three agencies involved in funding the Smith Centre, and they may be able to access funds from two of those agencies. He also was informed the operating budget for a nine- or 10-bed facility, such as the Smith Centre, is $1.2 million per year.

“And funding will also be a huge challenge because Northwestern Ontario is already getting 25 percent more than we are entitled to according to the formula used by the government,” he explained.

Regardless, Mayor Brown vowed he’s up to the challenge of acquiring the funding. Another challenge he mentioned is the demand.

“We may not have the initial mass to make the operation viable—the economy of scale may be an issue,” he conceded, noting there’s been little demand at the Smith Centre for youth from Rainy River District.

In fact, he added, there haven’t been any referrals from Atikokan in the last 18 months. The decrease could be because some caregivers have given up on the system while others may be being referred to Minnesota.

But he stressed they know the need is there and the group in Atikokan will try to collect as much data as possible in order to develop a business plan.

“I agree that we need something,” said one Substance Abuse Prevention Team member. “The problem is only going to get worse and has never been served properly here.”

“It’s nice to see something being done,” another member remarked. “And I think Atikokan is the perfect location.

The Substance Abuse Prevention Team agreed to provide a letter of support to the Atikokan group, with Mayor Brown indicating they will continue to plug away at the project.

(Fort Frances Times)

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