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Two dead from overdoses in Hay River drug ‘crisis’

A drug “crisis” in Hay River has prompted the creation of a new committee.
Town of Hay River council approved the creation of a sub-committee to deal with drug-related activity and social issues during the March 7 regular council meeting. NNSL photo

A drug “crisis” in Hay River has prompted the creation of a new committee.

Town councillors passed a motion on March 7 that will establish a sub-committee to replace a more informal ‘interagency’ group that has been meeting regularly with leading organizations in town.

While a terms of reference is yet to be struck, councillors advocating for the sub-committee want to see a similar representation to include the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation, Hay River RCMP, GNWT Department of Justice, Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre, Hay River Persons with Committee for Persons With Disabilities, Hay River’s two MLAs and the K’atlodeeche First Nation and West Point First Nation.

Mayor Kandis Jameson said because of two recent, sudden deaths in the last two weeks from drug overdoses that it is an opportune time to create a committee on council.

She said she sees the benefit of having a more structured group that can follow a terms of reference drafted under council’s direction and see people appointed by and reporting to elected members.

“I do believe it’s going to take strong leadership and all of us working together to find solutions and hopefully try and mitigate some of the fallout from what’s going on,” she said.

“Yes, (as a municipality) we’re dogs, ditches and dumps but we as a community are only as strong as our weakest link and I think we have to look at how do we support what these groups are doing and how do we support each other.”

Coun. Keith Dohey, who moved the motion for the sub-committee’s creation during Monday’s meeting said he has been contacted by residents calling for more to be done to address drug-related activity.

“I had a lot of residents reach out to me, especially lately, that are increasingly concerned about the growing drug problem in the community,” he said.

He added that he knows of six people who have died from drug use in the last year and that addictions are hurting people in the community.

“We’ve got people in the community that are profiting from death, and they’re dealing in the destruction of lives and families in our community,” he said.

“A lot of people are really reeling from it and don’t know where to turn People are afraid to speak up or won’t speak up because they don’t think that (the drug issue) impacts them directly.”

Dohey referenced RCMP officer Christopher Worden who was killed in the line of duty in 2007 while pursuing a suspect involved in the drug trade in Hay River.

The councillor pointed out that at the time of Worden’s death, residents rallied together and swore to never allow such an incident to happen again.

“I hate to say it, but I believe the drug problem in Hay River is worse now than it was then,” he said. “I think we’re in the midst of a crisis.”

The Office of the Chief Public Health Officer reported in a public health advisory on Feb. 24 that an unspecified South Slave community saw two deaths, possibly due to opioid addiction.

“The concern is the deaths are due to opioid adulterants and that every NWT community is at risk of receiving these lethal, illicit drugs,” the advisory stated.

Dohey said the committee needs to have representation from different groups in town because there are a multitude of challenges associated with drug use including housing shortages and the need for law enforcement.

“I think if we can identify together where there are gaps or things that are missed or maybe a shortage of resources and if we’re all pulling in the same direction together, I think we have the potential to do a lot of good,” he said.

“There’s probably not any kind of magic bullet to solve this issue because it’s multi-pronged.”

Coun. Robert Bouchard said he supported the creation of the committee as it will ensure action is taken on complex issues and that key groups are brought together to converse and share ideas.

“I think with the town’s structure we’ll be able to lead the group forward and keep it on an agenda that is scheduled so that some stuff can get looked at anyway,” he said.

“That’s where peak ideas come up and ideas that hopefully help the community in the long run.”