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MUHC to close its addiction psychiatry program

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The McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) is shutting down its addiction psychiatry program, worrying some local groups who say there was a lack of consultation.

The program is set to close in six months, and patients' rights advocate Paul Brunet finds the decision maddening.

"People afflicted with addiction are not second-class citizens," said Brunet. "Shame on any administration, especially the MUHC, who wants and will apparently go without having consulted anybody."

MUHC spokesperson Bianca Ledoux-Cancilla said in a statement that the program does not fall under its mandate, unlike the CHUM (Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal) where patients will eventually be referred.

"The addictions program has been in operation in its current format without modernization of the services for many years," she said. "It offers a very specific treatment to only a limited portion of patients who battle addictions, those functional enough to attend such a program. It has not been able to properly serve populations with dual diagnosis or those who require a more flexible or harm reduction model of care."

Former addict Joshua called the MUHC experience a "positively unparalleled addictions treatment."

He said it was his 11th program in Ontario and Quebec.

He is now over three years sober and said the one-on-one peer support is particularly important for his recovery.

"The longest I have ever been sober," he said. "In the 10 other programs I did, this one-on-one peer support was not an option. Only did I encounter it after having been at MUHC. I do think I would have relapsed if it wasn't for this cushion, as I did in the past."

CTV News is not using Joshua's last name to protect his identity.

He became a mentor to other addicts after achieving his sobriety.

"The great thing about being a mentor is sharing my experience and being able to highlight things I see in a recovering addict that I went through, to maybe warn them or empower them," said Joshua. 

Health law expert Louis Letellier de St-Just said he's concerned about potential linguistic barriers.

"MUHC is servicing the anglophone community, and also a little of the francophone community, but to excuse themselves, saying that the CHUM was given this specific mandate is irresponsible," said St-Just.

The MUHC said the decision was backed by its leadership as well as those at the CHUM and that it follows the Quebec Health Ministry's recommendations.

The MUHC said the addiction program is outdated and the closure will allow the hospital to redeploy staff to other units in order to get patients a bed faster.

Some advocates disagree, however.

"In the midst of the multiple crises here in Montreal with housing, homelessness, overdose crisis and mental health, which is in each of them, well, this is something that is lacking vision and respect for community-based organizations," said St-Just.

The mental health advocacy group Ami-Quebec is especially disappointed to see the recovery transition program end.

"Recovery from anything is not really happening in the psychiatrist's office; it happens in the community," said Ami-Quebec executive director Ella Amir.

She said the program using a peer mentorship model was making strides in recovery.

"It seems to me that there is no commitment to this program," said Amir.

The MUHC said the gradual closure will ensure the transition of patients already enrolled in the program.  

For Joshua, the program has become a community.

"When it closes, it is going to be a great loss for many of us," he said.

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