BY AMARACHI AMADIKE
Michael Garron Hospital has accelerated Toronto’s battle against the ongoing opioid crisis.
The hospital opened a new Women’s Withdrawal Management Services (WWMS) facility on Aug. 25. The facility for women is located at 989 Danforth Ave. (at Donlands Avenue), directly beside the Men’s Withdrawal Management Services that has operated there for more than 10 years.
The facility, which is open 24 hours a day, supports individuals 16-years-old and up who identify as women, non-binary, two-spirit and trans who are in crisis due to opioids, alcohol or other substances. It is equipped with 16 beds.
Their services include gathering spaces for group programming, crisis and house program beds, counselling, assessments and referrals for additional treatment when necessary. The facility will also provide connections to resources such as harm reduction services, housing and case management.
Upon arrival, a client is greeted by a welcoming mural courtesy of Julia Zhou, aka FPMONKEY, a BIPOC artist based in Toronto. Titled The Healing Heart, it depicts a woman who appears strong and proud but with the scars of her past traumas firmly marked on her face. She is surrounded by nature, and all the finer things Toronto has to offer, to signify her reconnection with the world around her.
Once guests are inside, they will have confidential and private intakes where their needs are determined by staff. The facility has nurses available at all hours as well as an addictions counsellor.
For safety reasons–and given the circumstances of their stay–guests are supervised for the first 72 hours before they are transferred to the house program where they will continue their journey towards recovery.
“This is a space that we envisioned as a place of respite, compassion, respect and dignity for women, and those who identify as women, to really heal,” said Kathryn Decker, Manager of Integrated Mental Health and Substance Use at MGH.
Decker highlighted the stigma experienced by individuals suffering from substance abuse. Historically, there has especially been a lack of access to service centres for women, “particularly Indigenous women and women of colour,” she said.
A press release by Toronto East Health Network stated that WWMS provides culturally safe treatment for Indigenous women through partnerships with organizations such as Mdewgaan Lodge and Thunder Woman Healing Lodge Society. They are also partnered with The Neighbourhood Group Community Services, an alliance of three organizations: Central Neighbourhood House, Neighbourhood Link Support Services and St. Stephen’s Community House. Together they advocate for “an equitable, just, and vibrant community”.
MGH launched the withdrawal management services catering specifically to women in an attempt to change the narrative around treatment of people with substance abuse issues.
And it has been met with positivity by members of the community.
“Many women-identifying individuals who use substances have experienced abusive or violent situations, so being in an environment where there are other men can be triggering, traumatic and not helpful for treatment,” said Gail Teabo, local resident and former client of withdrawal management services in Toronto.
Teabo believes that the new WWMS means “more women have a place where they can feel safe and supported in their journey” which, from her experience, “makes all the difference when it comes to taking that first step to recovery.”
Prior to her recovery, Teabo spent time in a withdrawal program that was less than ideal. Although they helped her recover, the atmosphere was “dark and kind of eerie”.
WWMS provides a bright, welcoming and hopeful atmosphere that enables those in need of help to feel safe enough to get better. The service prides itself on preserving dignity which is vital in a person’s path towards recovery.
“When you come to a place like this for the first time, you are at your lowest point,” said Teabo. “And I know the place I went to looked like I was at my lowest point. But this is different”
In 2021, there were 511 deaths as a result of opioid overdoses in Toronto. According to the city, this represents a “74 per cent increase from 2019 and a 273 per cent increase from 2015”.
As Toronto continues the fight against opioid overdoses and deaths, anyone who needs help with battling their addiction is urged to call Central Access for Addiction Services Toronto at 1-866-366-9513 to refer themselves to a withdrawal management service.
For more information on addiction withdrawal management programs run by or with Michael Garron Hospital, please go to https://www.tehn.ca/programs-services/mental-health-addiction