While not immune to substance abuse issues – including the use of opioids, deemed a growing crisis – the townships are an entirely different animal from the region’s cities in many obvious ways.
That said, there are a good number of similarities that are easy to overlook when comparing the urban and the rural settings. Similarities that in some cases get ignored, suggest a new study of substance abuse in Waterloo Region.
The report from Public Health looks at the issues and solutions in the region as a whole. Researchers found, among other things, that services were inadequate and that a lack of housing, food insecurity and inaccessible help were all putting a strain on drug use in the region – both in the cities and out.
“I would say overall … the challenges facing the region in terms of substance use and substance misuse are really no different from urban to rural in terms of the range and continuum of challenges,” said Denise Squire, executive director of the Woolwich Community Health Centre, who participated in the study as part of an advisory committee meant to guide the researchers in their work.
“I think perhaps one of the difference is that for the rural townships, you probably wouldn’t see as visible or as high a proportion of the population as, say, if you were walking in downtown Kitchener.”
She admitted that urban areas tended to see more of the kinds of people likely to have substance abuse problems.
“To be really blunt about it, it’s easier to be poor, to live in poverty, to have significant mental health and substance abuse issues and to survive in an urban setting because there are shelters, there are other resources and support services that are readily available in the urban centers than in the rural.”
But, while the cities tended to have higher proportions of drug use, Squire said that the problems being faced there were pretty much universal to the region. The lack of services in rural areas – Woolwich, for example, doesn’t even have an emergency shelter – makes it doubly hard for people here with substance use issues to get the help they need, she noted.
The issue is compounded by deficits in affordable housing, transportation, mental health services and treatment options.
Squire says that what she’d like for the townships is to see services brought into the community.
“For example, the Canadian Mental Health Association works onsite at Woolwich Community Health Centre, at our locations in St. Jacobs and Wellesley, to make their services available to the entire township,” she said.
“So we don’t look at bricks-and-mortar in terms of an agency necessarily setting up in the township, because there just might not be the population base to make that economically feasible. But we can actually have those services and staff working out of community locations to be more readily available to rural residents.”