Help for drug, alcohol addictions

Portage la Prairie has resources to help adults and youth


Advertise with us

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/02/2018 (1812 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Portage la Prairie is a short drive outside Winnipeg, and local officials say it shares the larger city’s illegal drug problems.

Portage la Prairie RCMP Staff Sergeant Rob Vachon said local crime related to drug-use fluctuates but there is no question that drugs are coming into the community through Winnipeg gangs that have contacts in the Portage area.

“We are certainly seeing drugs in the community,” Vachon said, pointing out that the situation is similar to that of other Manitoba cities and towns.

Supplied photo (From left) Addictions Foundation of Manitoba staff in Portage la Prairie are: Brenda Miller-Adams, rehabilitation counsellor at PCI; Betty Ryzner-Madsen, rehabilitation counsellor Portage la Prairie School Division - middle years; Lori Wheeler, community-based and impaired drivers counsellor; and Connie Boyachek, adult rehabilitation counsellor.

“It’s become a serious health and social issue.”

Portage RCMP officers are sometimes required to take people thought to be on drugs and needing medical help to the Portage District General Hospital’s emergency department.

The hospital’s director of health Noreen Shirtliff said hospital staff has seen an increase in drug-related cases over the past five years.

“In the last year there has (been) another increase with people on crystal meth,” Shirtliff said, adding that this is an anecdotal estimate as the number of patients treated for drug-related issues wasn’t available.

She said a rise in the number of people who have used cocaine has also been noticed by hospital staff.

Shirtliff said the hospital’s protocol for treating patients suspected of being high on some form of drugs is to first rule out all other factors.

“We wouldn’t make an assumption about drug use,” she said.

The Portage hospital has a mental health department which primarily treats people on an outpatient basis and can offer help with addictions. Hospital staff also refer patients to community resources for drug and alcohol addiction treatment.

AFM offers treatment options
One of these local resources is the Portage la Prairie Addictions Foundation of Manitoba team. The four Portage AFM counsellors each focuses on a particular segment of the community and provides rehabilitation, education and prevention for adults, and high school and middle years students.

Connie Boyachuk has worked for the AFM in Portage for about 18 years and is the adult rehabilitation counsellor. While some of her clients may be ordered by the court to take drug or alcohol treatment, attendance in AFM programs is voluntary.

“All clients are unique and their needs are unique,” she said.

Boyachuk and Lori Wheeler, who oversees the AFM’s community-based and impaired drivers programs, will direct clients to resources such as self-help groups and Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous.

“You can go to a (AA or NA) meeting every day of the week.

While Boyachuk has seen crystal meth addiction grow, alcohol is still the number one addiction problem among her clients, she said.

The AFM’s Brenda Miller-Adams and Betty Ryzner-Madsen are working within local schools to try to educate students on the dangers of alcohol and drug use. Miller-Adams is one of the health care workers in Portage Collegiate Institute’s teen clinic. The clinic’s other workers include a registered nurse, community mental health worker, a public health nurse and dietitian.

“We work in close collaboration to deliver services to students,” Miller-Adams said.
She presents a health curriculum focusing on substance and alcohol use that is part of the Grades 9 to 11 phys-ed program.

“I’m very connected to a team in Winnipeg. My presentations are tailored to trends,” she said.

While prescription medicine abuse among teens has grown, Miller-Adams said alcohol and cannabis use are still the two main substances used by teens.

She said upcoming changes in federal cannabis regulations that will allow legal purchase by those age 19 and over are causing some confusion among teens.

“I think that it can confuse people — is it (cannabis use) OK or not?”

Miller-Adams is working to help students and parents understand the issue, and also be aware of problems associated with cannabis use. She will have a display at the Portage la Prairie School Division’s public budget meeting Wed., Feb. 21 at 7 p.m. at PCI’s West Building – Gymnasium Room (65 3rd St. SW).

“Just because something is legal, doesn’t mean it is safe,” she said.

Supplied photo Compass Residential Youth Program supervisor Sherrie Palmer stands next to the sign outside the 14-bed facility at Southport.

Ryzner-Madsen works in Portage and Oakville schools to counsel students in Grades 7 and 8. As well as educating students about drug and alcohol use, she also sees students who are being negatively affected by family members’ substance use or addiction.

She said some students are referred to her program by school staff.

Wheeler focuses on youth who are outside the public school system, and refers clients to appropriate resources which can be local or located in Winnipeg.

Help for addicted youth available
One of the local resources is the AFM’s Compass Residential Youth Program, a 14-bed co-ed facility located in Southport.

Opened in 1999, the program accepts youth between ages 13 and 17 from across Manitoba and northwestern Ontario.

Program supervisor Sherrie Palmer said most youth entering the eight-week program are referred by AFM counsellors, First Nations and mental health workers. Like the AFM rehabilitation programs for adults, entry into the Compass program is voluntary.

Palmer said the program starts with a two-week assessment. Many clients are using a variety of substances and could feel that some aren’t causing them any problems.

“We certainly want them to take a look at all their drug use,” she said, adding that there’s a trend toward more frequent use among youth.

The Compass program is meant to be a safe space for youth and allows them to plan ways to lead a healthier lifestyle.

“We’re a short step in a very long journey,” Palmer said. Clients are counselled on resources available within their communities so they have help set up and a practical plan in place when they leave the residential program.

A full-time teacher works with youth at Compass so they don’t fall behind in their education. “Often our kids have become disengaged from school as drug use has overtaken their lives,” Palmer said.

Clients are able to use Southport’s recreational facilities including Central Plains RecPlex’s climbing wall and gym. They also take a daily walk around the grounds.

Palmer said a healthy diet and physical exercise help clients to leave in much better physical shape than when they entered the program eight weeks earlier. They are also given information on ways in which they can cope with situations without turning to alcohol or drugs.

“They leave with a community action plan,” she said. “It’s something that they can take back home.”

She adds that there is no shame or blame allotted if a client relapses and returns to the Compass program.

“It’s not uncommon. It’s hard to plan your life. You can do well here but not when faced with old friends or family addictions.

We’ll see them do well for a bit but then have a slip. We welcome them back and don’t see that as a failure,” Palmer said.

For more information on the Portage la Prairie AFM services, see

Andrea Geary

Andrea Geary
St. Vital community correspondent

Andrea Geary is a community correspondent for St. Vital and was once the community journalist for The Headliner.

Report Error Submit a Tip


Advertise With Us

The Headliner