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Calgary recovery advocates say demand is up – even as drug-related deaths hit all-time high

The number of drug-related deaths is awful, says Earl Thiessen, but the demand for recovery should offer some hope.

“People are focusing on the overdoses, which obviously needs attention,” said Thiessen, executive director of Oxford House.

“But the amount of people that are applying for treatment, pre-treatment, housing … our pre-treatment housing is full constantly.”

Numbers released last week showed 2,051 people died from drug overdoses in 2023 – the highest number ever recorded.

Of those, 1,867 were from opioids.

Thiessen says more support is still needed.

“What’s really needed right now, in my opinion, is more medical detox,” he said.

“The withdrawals are horrible from pharmaceuticals. I’ve experienced it and that’s what’s scaring a lot of people away from actually going into recovery.”

Triston Big Bull is scheduled to enter treatment later this week for his own addiction.

He’s now in pre-recovery housing, where he is getting regular support to stay sober.

He says there is a real awareness of the dangers of death on the street.

“It’s just a cycle and it never ends and people are dying like left and right of me on the streets and the overdoses are happening,” Big Bull said.

“It’s crazy how it is.”

He says he hopes others see his early success and make a change.

“It’s never too late to try and change your life and want a better life,” Big Bull said.

“Don’t be too hard on yourself, you know, because a lot of people are really hard on themselves and it doesn’t help the situation.”

Thiessen agrees.

“You have to find a way to move forward, right? That’s what it’s all about,” he said.

“I found mine, one through my reconnect to my Indigenous culture and two by forgiving those that harmed me. … Not for them. For me.”

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