The Alex’s Rapid Access Addictions Medicine (RAAM) clinic opened in February and has never been more vital for some than in the past year, when we’ve all faced the new – and often daunting – challenges of a pandemic.
RAAM services help fill gaps in the addictions treatment system by providing immediate access to evidence-based addiction care. Having RAAM as part of our Community Health Centre allows for fast, safe, effective treatment of addiction in a way that sets the individual up for success by providing medication-assisted recovery as well as psychosocial supports. The program is short-term, focusing on the early recovery period. People typically access the program for between three and six months before returning to their family doctor with a plan for ongoing support and treatment.
The RAAM clinic came to be thanks to Dr. Hasan Sheikh of the RAAM Clinic at Toronto Western Hospital. He joined the Calgary Mayor’s Office as part of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative last summer, when he conducted a comprehensive review of our addictions services in Calgary. Dr. Sheikh identified the opportunity for RAAM to complement our services.
So naturally when Dr. Sheikh shared his insights with our CEO, Joy Bowen-Eyre, she became excited about the potential benefits of the model. Subsequent funding from Alberta Health Services and the federal government allowed us to move quickly from the idea to reality.
We know that when folks make the decision to address their addiction and mental health issues they need unbiased, stigma-free support and they need it immediately. The RAAM clinic at The Alex has filled a much-needed gap in the services we currently offer our community. I am incredibly proud of the RAAM team,” Joy reflects.
The clinic has been busy and well-attended even in spite of COVID-19. In fact, many people have told us the pandemic has had a negative impact on their substance use. Sadly, provincial statistics bear that out, as more than twice the amount of Albertans have died of opioid overdoses in the second quarter of 2020 than in the first, and deaths increased by 28% in the first six months over the previous year.*
The clinic staff includes two addictions counselors, a nurse, a medical office assistant, a peer support worker, a medical lead and a mix of addiction medicine specialists, primary care providers and nurse practitioners.
Jen Eyford, Associate Director of Mental Health and Addictions, and RAAM lead considers how RAAM has made a difference in the work The Alex does in response to addiction. “The journey of building this clinic and making a difference in people’s life has been so rewarding. Bringing hope and (often life-saving) treatment to someone during a time of despair has been a gift and a privilege.”
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“The journey of building this clinic and making a difference in people’s life has been so rewarding. Bringing hope and (often life-saving) treatment to someone during a time of despair has been a gift and a privilege.”
On John’s 45th birthday, he gave himself a gift that would change his life: he walked into the RAAM clinic on to ask for help with his alcohol addiction. A professional, with a family, mortgage and all the rest, John had been hiding his addiction, and struggling with self-perception and intense feelings of shame. Like many people, John was trying to manage on his own, and would find himself in a pattern of returning to alcohol and feeling like he failed himself and his family.
When he walked into RAAM, our team was able to see him immediately, prescribe medication to help with his current withdrawal symptoms, and to begin a plan to move him out of the cycle of relapse and onto a sustainable path of healing. John has now been the first graduate of our program, and is back on track with his job, his family and his life.
It is the combination of quick access, and a collaboration from medical and social teams that makes RAAM so successful.
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