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GNWT gets $1M over five years to fight substance abuse

It costs less money to contract out addictions treatment services to southern treatment centres than it would to establish a new centre in the NWT, said Health and Social Services Minister Julie Green on Thursday in the Legislative Assembly. Blair McBride/NNSL photo

The Northern Wellness Agreement will receive a $1 million investment over five years to help address problematic substance use in the NWT, according to a joint news release on Monday from Health and Social Services Minister Julie Green and Marc Miller, federal minister of Indigenous Services.

The funding, over fiscal years 2019-20 to 2023-24 will support GNWT efforts to engage with Indigenous governments and organizations, community governments and non-governmental organizations to identify community-specific priorities, share evidence-based practices, and develop collaborative initiatives to addressing problematic use of alcohol and other drugs.

The $1 million will also be used for public engagement to develop a comprehensive public awareness campaign on alcohol and drugs. That work will be led by the Territorial Committee on Problematic Substance Use, represented by GNWT departments, members of the public and the Northwest Territories Association of Communities.

Rates of heavy drinking in the NWT are higher than the Canadian national average, according to the 2018 NWT Addictions Survey. Pixabay photo
Rates of heavy drinking in the NWT are higher than the Canadian national average, according to the 2018 NWT Addictions Survey. Pixabay photo

Feedback from those engagements will go towards developing a territorial alcohol strategy.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to addressing substance abuse," said Green. "It is only by working with Indigenous governments and communities on a coordinated approach to take action on alcohol and substance misuse that we will be able to see progress on addressing this serious public health issue. This federal investment will support this coordinated approach to protecting the health and safety of our residents and communities.”

The most successful strategies for confronting problematic substance use include prevention, treatment and harm reduction guided by the needs identified by communities, said Miller.

"We are pleased to support the GNWT, Indigenous leaders and organizations, communities, families and individuals across the region, in your efforts to provide help and hope to those affected.”

Data shows that a significant percentage of NWT residents consume various substances, according to the 2018 NWT Addictions Survey.

Thirty-three per cent of overall respondents reported being smokers; 74 per cent of respondents had a drink in the past 12 months; 47 per cent of males and 39 per cent of females report heavy drinking at least once per month (where heavy drinking entails consuming four or more drinks on one occasion for females and five or more drinks on one occasion for males), a higher rate than the 2018 national average of 19.1 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.

In addition, 41 per cent of NWT residents report cannabis use in the past year; cocaine has been used by 16 per cent of respondents, with 4 per cent using it in the past year; hallucinogens, not including ecstasy and MDMA are also popular, with 26 per cent having tried them and 5.2 per cent having tried them in the past 12 months.

The survey also stated that overall per person costs attributed to substance abuse in the territory was $2,329, more than double the national average of $1,081, said the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addictions).