RoadMAP for Regina

By Krista Baliko Posted: December 14, 2018 5:00 a.m.

(l to r) Rochelle Berenyi and Gabriela Novotna at Carmichael Outreach in Regina.
(l to r) Rochelle Berenyi and Gabriela Novotna at Carmichael Outreach in Regina. Photo: U of R Photography

Gabriela Novotna is reflective as she recounts a recent trip to a managed alcohol program (MAP) in Edmonton. A multi-site residence, it provides housing and alcohol for people with severe alcohol addictions. 

“Managed alcohol programs go beyond tolerating alcohol consumption. They are part of a homelessness and harm-reduction strategy,” says Novotna, an associate professor of social work at the University of Regina. “The onsite staff monitor and dispense regulated doses of alcohol, and despite what many think, people in these programs financially contribute to the provided alcohol.” 

She adds that the MAP site she visited “was calm and well organized, with residents engaged in cultural programming, conversations, and card games.” This supportive environment stood in stark contrast to an area she walked through only a few blocks away, where people were living precariously, pushing their belongings in shopping carts, many visibly inebriated. 

It’s these contradictory images that prompted her to reach out to Regina’s Carmichael Outreach, an organization that works with the city’s homeless population. 

“They wanted to know if research supported implementing a MAP in Regina,” says Novotna, a long-time addictions researcher who worked with nursing student Erin Nielsen on this project. Their research showed that people involved in MAPs reduced their drinking, had fewer injuries, and had less contact with emergency rooms and police. 

“We found that harm reduction, and, in particular, MAPs, are cost-effective for the community, and, more importantly, help to bring dignity to those who are vulnerable,” says Novotna. 

She adds that harm reduction is part of a spectrum of strategies for alcohol addictions, which also include abstinence and residential treatments. 

Rochelle Berenyi, communications, advocacy, and projects officer at Carmichael Outreach, says as someone who works closely with the community, the research confirmed what she’s known. 

“Carmichael’s goal with this project is to help the people we work with by reducing the stigma of addictions,” says Berenyi. “And we hope this research can help us do that.” 

Carmichael Outreach also aims to minimize the use of non-beverage alcohol. 

“We’ve seen people die from using non-beverage alcohol, such as hairspray and Listerine, and MAPs can minimize that risk and encourage people to stop using them,” says Berenyi. 

Novotna explains that MAPs are available for only a very vulnerable segment of the population that has chronic and severe alcoholism, engages in risky behaviours, has tried detox, and is chronically homeless. 

“Managed alcohol programs should be part of a response to homelessness in Regina,” says Novotna, adding, “Simply put, MAPs are a picture of humanity.” 

This research is supported by the Regina Public Interest Research Group (RPIRG) and the University of Regina’s Community Research Unit.

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