In an era where cannabis is legal and vaping is becoming more culturally prevalent, the GNWT Department of Health and Social Services aimed to find answers for Northerners about substance use in a workshop for childbearing women at the Chateau Nova in Yellowknife last week.

Nearly 80 people attended the Doorways to Conversation: Substance Use with Girls and Women workshop at the Chateau Nova Hotel, Thursday. The event featured Dr. Nancy Poole and Dr. Lorraine Greaves, two leading experts from the B.C. based Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health.
Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

Dr. Nancy Poole and Dr. Lorraine Greaves, both of the British Columbia-based Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health met with more than nearly 80 professionals that included doctors, nurses, community justice and case workers, government employees and non-government organizations as part of a federally funded public education campaign on poly-substance abuse.

A person with a poly-substance dependence is addicted to being in an intoxicated state without a preference for one particular substance. This can refer to the combination of alcohol and illicit street drugs, or the misuse of prescription medications.

The event, called “Doorways to to Conversation: Substance Use with Girls and Women in Pregnancy and Beyond” allowed for participants to learn the latest research women’s health around substance use and also address some common myths.

“We were invited here by folks in the government who are thinking through strategies for working with women who use substances,” Poole explained in an interview with News/North.

“We want to focus on both women in general, but specifically those in pregnancy and we’re trying to bring some of the latest research of what we know of some of the effects of those substances on women’s health.”


Poole and Greaves said with the legalization of cannabis and the increased use of vaping, providing the latest research from their institution can help the government provide quality health education, intervention and supports around substance use.

Dr. Nancy Poole, left, and Dr. Lorraine Greaves, right, both of the Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health, led a workshop called “Doorways to Conversation: Substance Use with Girls and Women in Pregnancy and Beyond” at the Chateau Nova Hotel, Nov. 7.
Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

They are hoping their speaking engagement will lead to better government policy but also more responsible usage among the public.

“So we are not just addressing people with addiction problems but all women and those who want to know if they can use cannabis while breastfeeding.”

Greaves said she was impressed with the GNWT’s approach.

“The Government of the Northwest Territories is really progressive in the sense that they are starting on this process of doing education about poly-susbstance use,” she said. “They aren’t siloing substances one by one but are really concerned about how can we talk about them together.”

Toni Anderson, co-chair of Moms Boobs and Babies, which is a territory organization that advocates for young breastfeeding mothers, said it is common for young mothers to ask questions about substance use, particularly alcohol and cannabis in and around the time of pregnancy. The organization hosted a Facebook Live event on Wednesday night that provided a forum for mothers to submit questions to the two doctors.

“I have only (received) positive feedback about the event and I think a lot of questions were answered. I really appreciated it because there are a lot of myths around substance use.”

Tracey Pope, a manager for persons with disabilities with the department of Health and Social Services attended the workshop and said it was a positive opportunity for all workers who work closely with women’s health to network and be updated on the latest in substance research.

“So one of the benefits was the openness to learn latest research of legal substances and how it effects women differently than men,” she said. “Definitely the theme was around pregnancy and poly-substance use, but it was also important that it highlighted aspects like breastfeeding and recognizing the pre-pregnancy period as well as birth control and family planning.”

Pope said she works closely with the issue of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD) – a lifelong disability that can be found in the north related to alcohol consumption patterns in the North.

She said that the topic does have a cultural stigma around it and it can make it a difficult subject to discuss sometimes.

A workshop that provides leading research, however, can help those who might be scared to ask questions to “have that conversation and make discussion more universal around alcohol and substance use.”

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. A through and through "County boy" from Prince Edward County, Ont., Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin...

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