In a report about addiction services in the Northwest Territories, the Office of the Auditor General of Canada (OAG) raised issues to the Department of Health and Social Services and the territory’s health and social services authorities, including difficulty accessing services, lack of aftercare and not taking “sufficient action” to make services “culturally safe” for Indigenous residents.
The Northwest Territories has some of the highest rates of addictions and substance use in Canada, and according to an annual report on the territory’s health and social services system for 2019 to 2020, it doesn’t appear to be improving.
Indicators such as the rates of smoking are double the national average, and heavy drinking is one-and-a-half times higher than the national average. These rates have not significantly changed over recent years.
Many communities across the NWT are accessible only by plane or winter roads, which creates challenges to deliver addiction services. According to the report, the Department of Health and the health authorities failed to determine what addiction services across the territory should look like in practice. Some addiction treatment programs have not always been accessible by those who may need their services.
It was also found that aftercare support was not provided for all clients. The OAG reviewed the files of 32 clients, and found that only two of them had aftercare plans created for them, which was “particularly troubling,” according to OAG.
Funding for aftercare programming existed, but according to the report, Indigenous groups contended that administrative requirements made accessing the funds difficult.
In the 2019 to 2020 fiscal year, the Department of Health increased the On the Land Healing Fund from $1.2 million to $1.8 million annually to help Indigenous governments and non‑governmental Indigenous organizations to improve land‑based addictions treatment, which includes aftercare programming.
According to the report, the department and the health authorities did not ensure that addictions services were culturally safe for Indigenous residents — the traditional Indigenous systems of experience and expertise were not taken into account when surveying who should be hired.
The department and the health authorities did not know “whether their addictions services were effective in helping residents achieve their desired outcomes” because they “did not sufficiently measure clients’ outcomes or use data to analyze trends.”
Julie Green, the minister of Health and Social Services, responded to OAG report saying that “work to make improvements is already underway.”
“The department is committed to offering a system of support, based on programs and services that meet the needs of those afflicted by addictions. This audit provides important insight into those programs and services, and it provides us with a guide to improve that system of support, so we can better serve NWT residents.” Green said.
“Countless NWT residents struggle with addictions in their lifetime. Many have struggled personally with substance use, while many others have watched a family member, or a friend, battle a dependency on drugs or alcohol. The impacts that come from these struggles are real and lasting, and they are what make the recommendations outlined in this audit a priority for me personally, and for the Department of Health and Social Services,” the Health minister said.