Nunavut needs healing, not processing for addictions

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Addictions can be found everywhere in Nunavut. They affect all walks of life, from the homeless on the streets to the politicians railing for a fix in the legislative assembly.

Everyone knows somebody addicted to some degree to alcohol, drugs or tobacco. All social issues – suicide, poverty and family violence, among them – are intertwined with the plight of addictions.

Try as they might, the powers that be have not had spectacular success in lowering addiction rates in the territory.

While Nunavut has relatively low rates for overall alcohol consumption per capita, it simultaneously holds the second highest rates for hospitalizations relating to substance abuse in the country, with alcohol being the substance most responsible. This suggests heavy binging behaviour when alcohol is available.

Crime rates, meanwhile, which in Nunavut are almost invariably tied to alcohol consumption, are the second highest in the country after the Northwest Territories.

Nunavut’s crime rate of 34,948 per 100,000 people, saw a two per cent increase from 2016 to 2017.

For decades, Nunavut has spent vast amounts of treasure medicating, policing and jailing its residents. Judges, lawyers, doctors and other health professionals, police officers and social workers, not to mention the armies of bureaucrats required to administer over all of these professionals, have to be coaxed from down south – at great expense – to ensure there is a system in place to deal with Nunavut’s addictions.

What Nunavut has is not so much a healing system but a process and management system. This is where the system must change.

The Nunavut government has at least recognized that an in-house solution is required and has taken a “made-in-Nunavut” approach in commissioning a 2018 report by NVision Insight Group which has outlined the need for better on-the-land healing services and a Nunavut treatment centre.

Right now, Nunavummiut must leave the territory to access residential treatment programs.

This report highlighted the five-year timetable for an addictions treatment centre based in Iqaluit, workforce development for the centre and some on-the-land programming at $55 million. In contrast the cost of treating substance abuse for Nunavummiut in 2014 was tabulated at $96 million.

The more resources the territory has at home to combat addictions, the more Nunavummiut themselves are involved in treating people, the more likely there will be success.

The fight against addictions is a fight Nunavummiut themselves must lead.

It will be with the helping hands of families, friends and neighbours who care, with knowledge based in Northern knowledge and values, that will lead the way in curbing addictions in Nunavut.

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