A healthy start at the Phoenix Centre

The centre has a new executive director who wants addiction viewed by society in the same way as other health problems. To Sian Lewis, the struggles of the mind and body are often intertwined.

She has half the staff she had working for her in Grande Prairie, Alta., but Sian (pronounced Shawn) Lewis sees more room for creativity and expansion in her new digs at the Phoenix Centre.

Two months into her job as executive director, Lewis has already come to appreciate her professional and knowledgeable staff.

"The work they do is really hard," she said Tuesday.

"I feel really fortunate."

She wants to raise the non-profit organization's profile in the region and beyond as a centre that does its job well and effectively.

What Phoenix does, of course, is drug and alcohol detox and programming.

What Lewis would like to see develop in the years to come would be a youth detox facility in Kamloops and an exploration of other, alternative therapies (such as acupuncture or therapeutic massage) that could be beneficial to people dealing with addictions.

Like many people who go into addictions work, Lewis has a family history with stories that tie into her field of interest.

As she talked about her wish to destigmatize addiction and develop new programs, her respect for those who have struggled came through.

"They're tenacious, they have these incredible stories of surviving and even thriving (despite their addictions)," she said.

"I have great admiration for those who come out the other side. Often they have an amazing desire to give back."

Lewis was born in Toronto but grew up in Vancouver. After one year of trying on classes at UBC, she spent a few years as a flight attendant with a Northwest Territories airline.

Then she focused in on social work and addictions. She has worked in addictions in Dawson Creek and Grande Prairie, Alta., before coming to Kamloops.

In Alberta, she oversaw a youth detox program. It's high on her priority list for Kamloops, since there is no such program in Interior Health. She'd also like housing where people can go after detox to continue their addictions recovery.

"What I'm really interested in is supporting the region, figuring out what is truly needed and making that happen," she said.

And if Interior Health can't fund it, she'll try to find a foundation or other source that will.

She looks forward to the day when addiction isn't seen as someone's weakness or immorality. To Lewis, mental health and addictions should be seen in the same way as cancer or heart disease or other ailments that affect the body.

"For me, addiction is a health issue," she said.

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