After 28 years of experience with substance use issues, Kelly Lawless knows continuing care programs are critical. Often these programs help to reduce social isolation and can take many forms, including group or telephone counselling, individual therapy, brief check-ups, self-help meetings, and recreational programming.
However, inconsistent access to programming and funding challenges can leave people like Kelly feeling a bit lost after completing more intensive treatment programs.
“I have great difficulty finding something that works for me,” she says. “The way the system is set up makes it so difficult to navigate your way through. It stopped me from moving forward, and so I would just return to the drug of choice.”
That’s why she is advocating for a better approach to long-term programming as a leader in the Continuing Care Project in Toronto, facilitated by CAMH’s Provincial System Support Program (PSSP). The project is led by a steering committee representing a range of service providers, organizational roles, and lived experiences of accessing treatments and supports for substance use.
A new report released this week by the CAMH project team shows that, unfortunately, Kelly’s experiences are not unique. Extensive consultations with 137 people, including service providers from CAMH, the addictions sector, and people with lived experience reveal findings that reflect the perspectives of participants on the availability, accessibility, acceptability, and quality of continuing care in Toronto.
It also outlines 10 opportunities for action that will form the foundation of stronger continuing care by prioritizing the ability of individuals to make informed decisions about their recovery.
“For people struggling with substances use issues, it can be a lifelong fight, often intensified by mental illness, trauma, homelessness and poverty,” says Stephanie Gloyn, Implementation Specialist with PSSP. “The report shows the majority of continuing care efforts are being done off the side of service providers’ desk. That speaks volumes about their innovation and dedication to their clients, but also about the need for a more coordinated approach.”
The report is the first step in carving out a path to ensure people with lived experience of substance use can get ongoing support. The Steering Committee will work with other stakeholders within Toronto to pursue the opportunities outlined in the report to expand continuing care in meaningful and enduring ways.