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‘It’s an illness, not a choice’: Addictions Awareness Week launches in Manitoba

Roland Vandal spoke at the Manitoba Legislative Building Tuesday for Manitoba Addictions Awareness week.

Roland Vandal has overcome addiction and other challenges. He spoke at the launch of Manitoba Addictions Awareness Week at the Manitoba Legislature Tuesday.

SHANNON VANRAES / FOR METRO

Roland Vandal has overcome addiction and other challenges. He spoke at the launch of Manitoba Addictions Awareness Week at the Manitoba Legislature Tuesday.

Roland Vandal knows first-hand what it’s like to struggle with substance abuse, and now he’s speaking for others still grappling with addictions.

Vandal, who runs a youth stabilization home, spoke at the legislature Tuesday for Manitoba Addictions Awareness week.  

After being sexually abused as a youth, and dealing with the resulting trauma and addiction, Vandal attempted suicide more than 15 years ago. He said if he were to be judged for who he was then, “they would have locked me up and thrown away the key.”

He said that awareness campaigns, like the one happening in Manitoba this week, are a positive step towards destigmatizing what he went through.

“It brings about awareness of addiction being an illness, not a choice, and a lot of people lack the understanding of what addiction is all about,” he said.

But he added that in addition to that awareness, more action needs to be taken with supports and services, especially at the first point of contact.

“Something has got to change, you can’t even get people into the hospital, get them treatment… at the point of contact when someone needs help, they need help right now, they don’t have time to wait four months,” Vandal said.

Those gathered at the legislature Tuesday were joined by provincial health minister Kelvin Goertzen.

Goertzen said a forthcoming report from VIRGO Planning and Evaluation Consultants Inc. will look at how Manitoba’s addictions and mental health systems are structured, and how those systems can be brought together.

“We know that those two are correlated… if you’re accessing one service it’s important to be accessing the other service, when it comes to finding solutions,” Goertzen said.

He added that addiction is a national issue.

“Right across Canada this is a struggle… more resources for sure, but also ensuring that the resources that we have are working well together.”

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