Generic oxy decision wrong on all counts
There is a study coming out in the December 2012 edition of the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry on the abuse of prescription drugs by adolescents across the country. The study examines the prevalence of drugs such as oxycontin and percoset among young people from the ages of 12 to 17.
As one part of its results, the study found that First Nations youth were twice as likely to abuse prescription drugs than non-Aboriginal youth.
But First Nations youth were not the highest risk group. Inuit youth were way more likely than any other group to abuse prescription drugs.
According to the study, Inuit youth abuse prescription drugs at rates more than three times that of non-Aboriginal youth, and nearly double the rate of First Nations youth.
Considering that the results of the study were leaked to media in August, and widely published in the newspapers of Nunavut, there is a very good chance Canada’s Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, the MP for Nunavut, knows about the findings.
Which makes her recent decision to allow the production and sale of generic OxyContin in Canada even more concerning.
In normal situations, we should not expect a federal minister to put the interests of one or two ethnic groups above the interests of the country as a whole. In her role as Health Minister Aglukkaq should not be making decisions based solely on what is good for Inuit people. But the issue of prescription drug abuse is not a normal situation. And Aglukkaq is not a normal minister.
As the most prominent Inuit politician this country has ever seen, Aglukkaq should understand better than most of her peers the issues facing Aboriginal people in Canada. She should serve as a voice of reason on behalf of Aboriginal people when cabinet discusses directions and decisions that affect the country. And she should ensure that, at the very least, her own department is doing things in the right way when it comes to Aboriginal peoples’ issues.
Aglukkaq has come under fire from a wide range of stakeholders for her decision to allow generic oxycontin in Canada. Police chiefs, doctors and pharmacists have all chimed in, arguing that Health Canada was wrong to allow generic oxy to be sold here.
Provincial health ministers, led by Ontario’s Deb Matthews, had previously requested that Health Canada delay approving the generic versions of the drugs to give the provinces time to prepare. Their request was ignored, and they are understandably upset.
Matthews told Wawatay News last week that she was “profoundly disappointed” with Aglukkaq’s decision, and that Ontario will examine all its options to keep generic oxycontin out of the province.
“I feel I owe it to all those people who have stepped forward to share their stories to do everything in my power to limit access to this drug,” Matthews said.
Of course many of the stories Matthews cites of how prescription drugs are devastating lives have come from non-Aboriginal people. Addictions are not a race problem, but a human one. But the health minister does acknowledge that some of the “most passionate” arguments she has heard against allowing generic oxycontin in Canada have come from First Nations leaders. The dire effects of prescription drugs in First Nations communities has been made loud and clear to her, and she seems to understand.
Which raises the question of why Aglukkaq seems not to have heard and understood?
Given her background of growing up in Nunavut, Aglukkaq should understand the realities of life in isolated communities with high unemployment and high levels of poverty. She should have her eyes and ears tuned to the issues facing Aboriginal people across the country. She should be a champion for her people, and all Aboriginal people in Canada.
Instead she has made a decision that flies in the face of the concerns of Aboriginal communities as well as the realities of prescription drug abuse.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said last week that Aglukkaq’s decision to allow generic oxy in Canada will mean more drugs flowing to the communities of the north. He said that in the face of the extreme levels of addictions that First Nations face, extreme decisions from the federal government are needed. He described Aglukkaq’s decision as “another blow” to First Nations.
The sad part of the story is that by choosing to ignore the social effects of prescription drug abuse in making a political decision, and by choosing to ignore the calls of First Nations leaders across the nation, Canada’s most prominent Aboriginal politician is the one leveling the latest blow to Aboriginal people.
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