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Port Alberni looks to San Patrignano for a way to handle the ‘upstream’ causes of its drug problem

John Douglas has seen it over and over in his years working with men and women who use street drugs in Port Alberni, a tough resource town on Vancouver Island. A guy starts using drugs and spends years in their grip, often ending up homeless or in jail. He finally decides he has had enough and decides to seek treatment. He does six or eight weeks at a program, going to meetings and staying off drugs. He comes out of treatment, falls in with his old friends and goes right back to using again.

Most treatment programs last only a few weeks or months. Even if clients finish – and many quit or get kicked out before they do – they often return to drug use when they go back to the communities and bad influences they left behind. Some suffer overdoses almost as soon as they get out, joining the thousands who have lost their lives in Canada’s continuing opioid crisis.

Mr. Douglas, a former mayor of Port Alberni, decided there had to be a better way. He found it half a world away in the green hills of northern Italy. This month, he is overseeing the opening of a so-called therapeutic community (TC) modelled on a famous program near Rimini. Residents there stay not just for weeks or months but for years, rebuilding their lives from the bottom up.

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13 October 2021