When challenged on obvious failures, it’s sad to hear GNWT ministers sticking to poorly crafted scripts. I feel I have to say something and I think Dave Poitras, Chief of Salt River First Nation in Fort Smith, feels the same way.

Last week in the NWT Assembly, Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson asked Health Minister Julie Green, “Why isn’t there an addictions treatment center in the NWT?”

Green said she and her civil service colleagues are all doing the best they can with existing programs — which include sending people south for intensive and expensive addictions treatment, provided they make it through the application process and waitlist.

Green pointed out the history of the former Nats’ejee K’eh Treatment Center in Hay River. It was never more than a third full when shut down in 2013. Readers might remember there was another territorial treatment center on the Dettah road in 1991, closed a few years after it opened because of mismanagement. In both instances, the need for a territorial treatment centre remained while closures appeared an acceptable option.

Chief Poitras, also a Northern addictions counsellor with more than 25 years experience, was quick to go on Facebook explaining why Nats’ejee K’eh failed after being successful — a staff change opting for southern degrees and expertise over Northern knowledge and expertise, a very common scenario in the GNWT. A bunch of people who know Poitras and all about the carnage addiction has caused in the North agreed, commented and shared his post.

While Poitras’ explanation has the ring of truth, it won’t matter because as Green revealed, a full-fledged addictions treatment center is not a priority for the government because it isn’t in the present budget.

Green mentioned the Tłı̨chǫ government is doing a ‘cost benefit analysis’ on having its own regional treatment centre. (Monfwi MLA Jane Weyallon Armstrong had spoken of the need for addictions and mental health treatment that same morning.)

Hopefully, the Tłı̨chǫ won’t copy the GNWT’s cost benefit analysis. That was carried out by people who don’t know what Chief Poitras does about addictions, other than the hard costs of in-territory vs flyout costs. The GNWT decided long ago it’s better cost-wise to export Northern addictions to private southern clinics.

The problem is, GNWT analysts miss the true costs of addictions. While human suffering doesn’t translate to a spreadsheet, let’s add up the costs of police arresting and charging people who get drunk and angry and hurt other people and themselves every day. Add uncontrolled court costs of first appearance, second appearances, missed court dates, judge and jury trials, pre-sentencing reports and sentencing hearings, sheriffs, defence lawyers, prosecutors, clerks, correctional facilities and 24-hour staff. Add in medical services, medevacs and social services seizures of children from stricken families.

All of these are recurring costs. Experts like Poitras know addictions fuels a cycle of family violence that ensnares children, cripples education outcomes, perpetuates self-destructive lifestyles, from childhood to adulthood.

By any measure, in the last 30 years, the GNWT and successive elected assemblies have shown no measurable progress in healing our population suffering from addictions. We see the obviously ill people they have failed in regional centers, in small communities, in the streets of Yellowknife — no place and few families are spared.

Minister Green pointed out it was her own experience that healing starts with the person wanting help.

So true. The problem is, as Poitras and so many other Northerners know, including Hay River MLA Simpson, what the GNWT offers people wanting help falls far short of helping them.

Minister Green invited more conversation on addictions treatment. Ordinary MLAs have a duty to make Minister Green recognize the solutions are North of 60. Experienced experts are in every community.

Her job is to lead her GNWT staff, not accept their excuses for repeated failure. Help them shape services under the direction of Northerners who have a proven track record in addictions treatment. Then they have a chance at succeeding.

Bruce Valpy

Bruce Valpy is former Publisher/CEO of NNSL Media. He can be reached at 1-867-445-2040

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