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Castlegar detox centre sees uptick in alcohol-related visits during pandemic

Axis House Withdrawal Management services are available to anyone in the Kootenay-Boundary region
Ashley Parsons is the nurse manager for Axis House Withdrawal Management. Photo: Betsy Kline

A Castlegar detox centre has been noticing a shift in clientele since the COVID-19 pandemic began and the reason might surprise you.

It’s not opiates driving the upward trend at Axis House Withdrawal Management — it’s alcohol.

Axis House is the only short-term detox facility in the Kootenay-Boundary region. It offers three-to-five day stays for medically-assisted withdrawal from alcohol, opiates or stimulants, supervised by nurses and withdrawal management workers. More than 700 people have utilized its services since the doors opened in 2017.

According to Axis House’s nurse manager Ashley Parsons, more and more people are coming to the clinic to withdraw from alcohol. Prior to the pandemic, just under half of intakes were alcohol related, now it is 58 per cent. The number of clients coming to the facility for their first detox has also increased, along with the total number of clients.

“It speaks to the social isolation that came with COVID,” says Parsons.

“It is a changing demographic we are supporting right now.”

While the percentage of clients using stimulants (crack, methamphetamine, cocaine) decreased from 12 per cent to 7 per cent, rates for opiates and poly-substances have stayed about the same.

“Many people are struggling with anxiety, with social isolation, a lot of people are overusing substances where maybe they didn’t before,” says Parsons.

“It is an important time to have a conversation about substance use and the resources that are available in our community.”

With more clients coming in for alcohol-related stays, Parsons is encouraging people to consider the way we as a society celebrate alcohol.

“It is at every trip to the beach, BBQ, dinner function — that just might not be safe for everyone,” explains Parsons.

“We make it expected that people will drink, and don’t really see the social harms that are lurking there.”

Parsons also says stigma is still a big barrier for people to overcome before they access a service like Axis House.

The facility itself isn’t quite what a lot of people expect either — you won’t find rows of hospital beds or a clinical coldness. Instead there is a cozy, homey atmosphere with individual bedrooms, couches for watching television and family-style dinners.

At the facility, the staff is focused on the medical needs of their clients, so it is really not the right setting for in-depth counselling services. But part of what Axis offers is connections and referrals to follow-up care such as residential treatment facilities, day treatment programs, community mental health, discharge planning and linking clients with physicians.

“We can help people just get the ball rolling,” says Parsons.

“Our focus is on clients’ strengths and resources, building resilience and acknowledging that there is a ton of work to be done and that detox is just the tip of the iceberg.”

A doctor’s referral is necessary to enter treatment at Axis House and potential clients must be found to be medically and psychiatrically stable.

If you or someone you know could benefit from a detox centre, talk to your health care provider or give Axis House a call at 778-460-1901.

RELATED: ‘We weren’t quick enough’: Nelson event marks International Overdose Awareness Day

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Axis House Withdrawal Management offers short-term detox stays in Castlegar. Photo: Betsy Kline
Axis House Withdrawal Management offers short-term detox stays in Castlegar. Photo: Betsy Kline

Betsy Kline

About the Author: Betsy Kline

After spending several years as a freelance writer for the Castlegar News, Betsy joined the editorial staff as a reporter in March of 2015. In 2020, she moved into the editor's position.
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