Matawa First Nation Chiefs Declare Medical State of Emergency:

Thunder Bay, ON, June 3, 2009 – Matawa First Nation Chiefs have passed a resolution declaring a Medical State of Emergency to what they call an epidemic of prescription drugs within their communities. The Matawa Chiefs are calling on all levels of government, health providers, the justice community, social service agencies and families, to help develop an emergency response strategy to address the epidemic.Matawa Chiefs explain that there is a large quantity of prescription drugs, such as oxycontin, coming into their communities and being abused by a huge percentage of their people. Eabametoong First Nation Chief Solomon Atlookan says: “that the misuse is putting people’s lives at risk, resulting in spiking crime rates, theft, violence, child neglect, and elder abuse.”

Chief Allan Towegeshig of Long Lake #58 First Nation says: “the issue has come to a point that if something isn’t done to resolve this epidemic, the future of my people is in great jeopardy”. Towegeshig says the situation has reached new heights with elders, who are in legitimate pain, being targeted by addicts. A Methadone Treatment Program has been available to those in need in Long Lake #58 First Nation but Towegeshig says: “there is no aftercare programs provided, leading to members of my community implicated in the methadone program for more than six years…and now they’re just addicted to a different drug.”

Matawa Chiefs are also concerned about an underground economy that has developed with drug dealers targeting their communities.

Today, Matawa First Nation Chiefs met with Ontario’s Assistant Deputy Minister and Executive Officer of Ontario Public Drug Programs, Helen Stevenson, Nishnawbe Aski Nation Police members, and healthcare officials, in attempt to receive assistance to reduce the misuse of prescription drugs.

Matawa Chiefs say to start the rehabilitation of their nine communities, tougher drug protocols that provide more in-depth screening and assessment of patients, along with stricter policies for prescriptions, need to be enforced. Matawa First Nations is also looking for available funding to operate a regional aftercare program.

Matawa Chiefs are recommending the development of a regional strategy that will use the four pillar approach concept that has been used in larger cities like Vancouver. This particular approach focuses on public education, rehabilitation, aftercare, and data collection.

Quick Facts:
• Matawa First Nations is a Tribal Council of nine Northern Ontario First Nations. Matawa First Nation communities are situated within the James Bay Treaty #9 and the Robinson Superior Treaty 1850. They consist of remote and road access communities with a total population of approximately 8000 people.

For further information, please contact:

Amanda Bay, Communications Officer
Firedog Communications
T: (807) 767-4443

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