Fragile social networks and a lack of community services remain challenges for NWT residents seeking addiction treatment, according to a recent survey from the Department of Health and Social Services.

The results of the survey were presented during a meeting of the Legislative Assembly’s Standing Committee on Social Development on Dec. 7. Its purpose was to survey NWT residents,who had sought addiction treatment, about their experiences to improve services.

The main barriers to treatment access listed by those surveyed included a lack of services in their community and a lack of knowledge about the services that were available to them. There is currently no addiction treatment centre in the Northwest Territories.

Sixty-seven per cent of respondents said they would like to see such a facility, with the most common reasons being that they would prefer to stay closer to home and to family, and that they would prefer a more culturally-sensitive program.

Thirty-three per cent said they would prefer a facility outside of the territory, with the most common reasons being that they would have more privacy in the south, and that they would have an easier time healing outside of their community.

Although a majority of respondents wanted to see an NWT-based treatment facility, “We’re hearing that one single treatment facility might not meet the needs of all residents,” said Sara Chorostkowski, the department’s director of mental wellness and addictions recovery.

One-on-one counselling was the most common form of treatment but most respondents used more than one service, with the average being 2.5. At least one respondent nine different services. “There is no one size fits all,” said Chorostkowski.

Among those who relapsed, they most common reasons were a lack of a strong social network and a lack of services in the respondent’s community. Similarly, relationships with family, friends, and others who are in recovery were listed as the three most important factors in successful recovery.

“The main sources that people lean on are informal and community-based,” said Chorostkowski.

Included with the survey were several concrete suggestions to improve treatment access in the territory: These include measures to reduce or eliminate wait lists; Long-distance treatment options for those in remote communities; and housing for those transitioning to a sober lifestyle.

Inuvik-Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler, who sits on the standing Committee on Social Development, mentioned technology as being another barrier to treatment, especially for Elders. “I don’t know where they would have accessed an app,” she said.

“There are some Elders that are very tech savvy, but there’s even a lot of us that are not that old that are not that tech savvy.”

Chorostkowski responded that the apps were not meant to be a replacement for other forms of treatment: “It’s certainly not meant to replace [other services], nor will it be the answer for everybody.”

As for residents not knowing what services are available to them, Chorostkowski said the Department is working on a more comprehensive communication plan. “That’s something we’re working on right now, and we’re moving quite quickly,” she said.

As for sober living facilities, “we are looking to work directly with communities on the delivery of that service,” said Chorostkowski.

There were 439 respondents to the survey, 71 per cent of whom were women and 57 per cent of whom were Indigenous. Bree Denning, an advisor to the GNWT on problematic substance use, said the sample size was not meant to be statistically significant, only to provide a snapshot of what kinds of challenges those seeking treatment faced. Due to the small sample size, the survey did not record where each respondent lived.

The Department will continue to conduct the survey every two years.

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