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Shaking the stigma: More women in detox

The number of women using Whitehorse’s alcohol and drug detoxification facility has skyrocketed, according to the facility’s supervisor.

The number of women using Whitehorse’s alcohol and drug detoxification facility has skyrocketed, according to the facility’s supervisor.

Recently compiled data shows a 23-per-cent increase in the number of women dropping into the centre since 2001, said detox supervisor Val Osinchuk during a recent tour provided to The News.

“In the past, we’d be lucky to see one or two women in an entire month,” she said.

“Now they make up around one-fifth of our clients.”

This trend is not the result of an increase in alcohol or drug consumption amongst the territory’s female population, said Osinchuk.

Rather, it’s more likely due to the changing attitude of women towards seeking help for their addictions, as well as an increase in awareness of what services are available to them.

And a lot of this change can most likely be credited to a determined promotional campaign by the Yukon’s Alcohol and Drug Services, she said.

Over the past few years, the department has been making a concerted effort to get information out to women in Whitehorse and in the communities about the help that is available to those with addictions.

And one of those services is the detoxification unit — a 10-bed facility located on the ground floor of the Sarah Steele Building on 6th Avenue.

While the facility doesn’t provide medical treatment or long-term care, it does offer a safe environment and 24-hour supervision for up to five days for individuals withdrawing from alcohol or drugs.

Also offered are free meals, clothes, toiletries and a handful of other services that include various recovery activities and referrals.

In the past, women have shied away from detox for a variety or reasons — from a lack of awareness or fear, to the stigma attached to revealing an alcohol or drug problem, said Osinchuk.

But an ongoing campaign consisting of newspaper and television ads, posters, information workshops and networking has helped dispel these notions and make women realize the service is just as much available to them as it is for men.

The detox facility, which receives about 80 to 100 clients a month, will always have beds reserved for women, said Osinchuk.

And these beds will be in a room separated from the male clients.

The staff, who have backgrounds in nursing assistance, social work and home care, always make sure to maintain the utmost confidentiality of all their clients, she said.

A big factor in the growing number of women in detox is the collaborative work Alcohol and Drug Services has been doing with women’s groups and counselors, said Alcohol and Drug Services manager Larry Whitfield.

“Our prevention team goes to various professionals who work with women with a variety of substance abuse problems, and so the referring agencies are also quite aware of what we’re providing now and have a better understanding,” he said.

His department works extensively with the Yukon Women’s Transition Home (Kaushee’s Place) and the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre to organize information workshops on alcohol and drug addiction services, said Whitfield.

But while many have praise for the work of the detox staff, few will deny there is a serious lack of options in Whitehorse for shelter and long-term treatment once they come out of detox.

The Yukon lacks supervised housing where people going through more advanced recovery can be helped to readjust to the outside world in a safe environment.

“Whitehorse needs a halfway house — we’ve known that for the last umpteen years,” said Osinchuk.

“It’s nothing new.”

And with the Salvation Army recently deciding to close the doors to women for its Adult Resource Centre for security reasons, women have even fewer options once they get back on the street.

Meanwhile, the employees at Alcohol and Drug Services are doing their best to encourage and support women with addictions, said Whitfield.

“We don’t judge you,” he said. “We’re very non-judgmental.

“And if (we) get that message out there, I think people are more likely to access the services.”