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NAN Demands Response from Government on Opioid Epidemic and anticipated Mass Withdrawal

New Release
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
For Immediate Release

Toronto, ON: Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Chiefs are demanding a response from both the provincial and federal government on addressing the opioid epidemic and potential mass involuntary opioid withdrawal in NAN Territory.

NAN Executive Council recognizes the benefits of delisting OxyContin in Canada since the drug has caused wide-spread opiate addiction in many remote communities that have resulted in several First Nations declaring states of emergencies. However, NAN has serious concerns with the government’s lack of foresight in assisting NAN to develop a strategy to help First Nation residents cope with painful drug withdrawal.Health Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care are well informed about the situation in NAN through the state of emergency declared by NAN Chiefs-in-Assembly in 2009, but NAN is still waiting for a response to community-based proposals and funding for the NAN Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force to implement the NAN Prescription Drug Abuse Framework. This framework would address treatment, security, prevention and addressing root causes.

“We have a public health catastrophe on our hands, and no one is stepping up to take responsibility to help our people,” said NAN Deputy Grand Chief Mike Metatawabin. “Our communities have minimal access to medical services to help cope with severe withdrawal symptoms. Our people have a right to timely and effective health care.” In addition to the immediate requirements needed to deal with potential large scale withdrawal, NAN Chiefs are continuing to press for a response from both levels of government for programs, services and resources to support long-term recovery.

In a February 17 interview with Global News, Health Canada’s Susan Pierce stated that there will be primary care on the ground to help manage any possible problems that could arise; this plan, however, has yet to be conveyed to NAN.

NAN First Nations are unique by their geographic isolation and lack of access to addiction treatment that exist in urban centres. Remote First Nation residents have difficulty accessing counselling and mental health services. The NODIN regional mental health program has a waitlist of 660 referrals. According to NAN Health officials, there are no resident physicians and the nursing stations have a 40 percent nursing staffing shortage. Primary care will be overwhelmed by the thousands who could be seeking health care when opiate supplies change.

“Nurses are deeply concerned about the thousands of people whose suffering will only increase if they cannot get proper access to treatment. Opiate addiction is a health problem. This has the potential to become a serious public health issue if we fail to take action immediately. First Nations people need compassion, support and treatment to overcome their addiction. I implore Deb Matthews and her federal counterpart to do everything in their power to ensure First Nations people get the help they need and deserve,” said Doris Grinspun, Executive Director of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO).

NAN continues to demand the implementation of a more culturally-relevant and communitybased treatment which would help reduce the demand for drugs through effective prevention. NAN also requires land-based and other programming to work on root causes of addiction along with the improvement of security to reduce the supply of drugs coming into First Nation communities.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation is a political territorial organization representing 49 First Nation communities in James Bay Treaty No. 9 and Ontario portions of Treaty No. 5 – an area covering two thirds of the province of Ontario.www.nan.on.ca

For more information please contact Christina Filazzola, Communications Officers –
Nishnawbe Aski Nation (807)625-4928or cell (807) 251-6386 or by email [email protected]