Amid concerns of a crisis, Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation Chief James Marlowe is calling on the territorial government to establish a permanent addiction treatment centre in the NWT.
“There are a lot of people out there suffering due to mental health issues, addictions and trauma,” he said. “There is hardly any support. There has been hardly any headway with the government in implementing programs and services for those that need help.”
In terms of residential addiction treatment service providers, “there are zero places for anybody in the Northwest Territories,” said Marlowe.
Due to limited treatment options in the North, those in need of residential care are sent out of the territory, “and it seems like that’s not working,” he contended.
Marlowe and other Akaitcho Territory Government chiefs recently issued a news release requesting additional resources needed to deal with addiction and mental health issues in their communities.
The territory has had several residential addiction treatment centres in the past – most recently Nats’ejee K’eh in Hay River, which closed its doors in 2013.
Though the territory partners with a number of facilities for residents in need of therapy, all are outside the territory.
In small communities, those impacted by substance use sometimes end up in larger centres such as Yellowknife, “where they get deeper into addiction,” said Marlowe.
Often, the only services these individuals receive are “when they cause trouble,” and find themselves in the criminal justice system, he added.
“The judges in the court system tend to ship them back to the communities where they come from,” he said. “They throw them back with no proper assistance for housing, counselling or mental health services to take care of that individual.”
Members of his Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation are in support of creating a regional addiction treatment centre with cultural programming, such as on-the-land healing camps, according to Marlowe.
National Addictions Awareness Week, which runs from Nov. 20–26, aims to destigmatize Canadians dealing with addiction while recognizing efforts for change, which is why “Change Begins with Me” is the theme for this year’s observance.
Sara Austin, founder and CEO of the national charity Children First Canada, said the impacts of substance abuse can be especially profound in youth.
“There are significantly high numbers of young people experiencing that challenge, along with other mental health concerns,” she said. “What’s often shocking is the very young ages at which young people are facing many of these issues.”
The organization recently released its fifth annual Raising Canada report, which reveals nearly 60 per cent of Canadians think children are worse off now than a year ago.
The report suggests that eight million kids in Canada are facing substantial risks to their well-being, with Indigenous communities being more drastically affected than others.
It calls on the federal government to take action with the creation of an independent federal commissioner for children and youth dedicated to protecting their rights.