First Nation drug crisis draws nursing groups and political organizations into battle


From the Vancouver Sun 

Ontario nurses blast gov't inaction on First Nations drug crisis


OTTAWA — The federal and provincial governments have failed to adequately address the prescription drug abuse crisis that is devastating remote northern Ontario communities, says the association that represents 33,000 registered nurses in Ontario.

"This letter is to implore your ministries to work together to immediately address the devastating impacts of opiate addiction in remote and isolated areas of northern Ontario," Doris Grinspun, executive director of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, wrote this week to federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews.

In some remote First Nations communities in northern Ontario, up to 80 per cent of adults are addicted to OxyContin and other synthetic opioids. The addiction crisis has hollowed out communities and has resulted in growing numbers of babies being born addicted to the drugs to which their mothers are hooked.

The Nishnawbe Aski First Nation, the political organization that represents 49 First Nations communities in northern Ontario, has worked to address the issue but has grown increasing frustrated with what they say is a lack of response by both levels of government to the addiction epidemic.

In her letter to Aglukkaq and Matthews, Grinspun said the people of Nishnawbe Aski First Nation (also known as NAN) "should not be placed in such egregious conditions" that First Nations leaders were forced to file a human rights case against the federal government and the province for failing to provide the resources, programs and services needed to cope with the drug crisis.

NAN has set up its own drug detox program which has successfully treated people in their own communities using the drug Suboxone. "Despite its cost-effectiveness and value as being least intrusive to community members, access to Suboxone is being curtailed," said Grinspun.

The nurses organization, which has members working in northern communities, also has been outspoken about dire living conditions in Attawapiskat and has expressed outrage that the Red Cross responded first to the housing crisis on the isolated reserve while the federal and provincial governments bickered over which government was responsible for providing emergency aid.

The nurses also say both levels of government have acknowledged the challenges faced by First Nations communities in northern Ontario and the suffering being experienced by residents of remote communities but have failed to take meaningful action.




First Nations meet to study drug detox solutions - Federal funding available to address the problem in the north

CBC News Posted: Jan 9, 2012 

Health Canada says it has up to $700,000 to help curb the epidemic of prescription drug abuse in northern Ontario First Nations — and it's organizing a meeting this week in Thunder Bay to find the best ways to spend the money.

Susan Russell, acting Ontario regional director for Health Canada, said the meeting is for people who are already running detox programs in First Nations to share best practices.

“It is our hope that, coming out of that meeting that we will see proposals [and] plans from those communities that have not yet submitted those,” she said.

Not everyone invited

Russell said she expects about two dozen people will attend.

“It's intended to be a very small, focused meeting that really enables those community members that are leading these projects to voice what their needs are,” she said. “And to really share with other community programs and other community leaders what those successes may be, so they can learn from each other.”

Russell said participants will also discuss operational needs and challenges.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation received an invitation, but the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority — the organization that was mandated by the chiefs to deal with prescription drug abuse — was not invited.

Some of the $700,000 Health Canada has pledged to combat prescription drug abuse in the north has already been committed, but Russell noted that a "healthy amount" is still available. The money is intended to flow into successful programs within this fiscal year.

Several First Nations have declared a state of emergency because of prescription drug abuse.