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Cat Lake youth hold key to healthy community

Tuesday April 17, 2012
Samuel Wesley talks to reporters in Cat Lake.

Cat Lake’s youth may be the key to a healthier, prescription drug-free future.

“I’ve got to think about tomorrow for my kids,” said Samuel Wesley, a 37-year-old Cat Lake resident who began abusing prescription drugs about a year ago. “I just remember when I was crying (as a child) for my parents to take me home.”

Wesley suffers from an addiction to prescription drugs that has caused him to lose custody of his two young children.

Wesley was placed into care when he was a child and now his two-year-old daughter and six-month-old son have also been placed into care.

“I know the affect it had on my life,” Wesley said. “I’m making my children suffer. I’m damaging them on the inside. I’m ruining their trust issues. I’m doing abandonment issues on them.”

Cat Lake declared a state of emergency on Jan. 23 due to rising prescription drug addiction rates in the community of about 500 residents.

With about 70-80 per cent of the community reported to be addicted to some form of prescription drug, primarily Oxycodone or Percocet, a group of Grade 6 students recently sent a message to their community asking for a happier and healthier future.

“We feel unhappy and helpless,” was the fourth point in the 12-point message. The fifth stated: “We feel that we don’t know what to do to help you stop doing drugs.”

The students asked community members to go for treatment and get healthy.

“It hurts us and Shomis and Kokum when you’re doing drugs and you’re not at home,” they wrote. “If you really love us, you will try to stop.”

Grand Chief Stan Beardy said the leaders of Nishnawbe Aski Nation were forced to declare a state of emergency over family issues due to prescription drug abuse in 2009, as the problems in communities were growing every year.

“A lot of children are taken into care because the parents that are addicted to prescription drugs cannot manage their lives, cannot manage families,” Beardy said. “That’s what I’m trying to push to the forefront for Canadian society to realize that we have an epidemic of prescription drugs in our communities.”

Beardy said community members have been devastated by the prescription drug abuse crisis because they lost their coping mechanism through the institutionalization of residential schools.

“This is what we call intergenerational affects of residential school, where we don’t have coping mechanisms to deal with new challenges,” Beardy said.

Wesley agreed with the Grand Chief’s comments. In his own life he points to Residential School as the place where many of his problems stemmed from.

“I lost my will power a long time ago in residential school — I was always told to do this and to do that,” Wesley said. “I was never allowed to use my brain; I was never allowed to be who I am. I was always forced to be someone who I am not.”

Wesley wants to beat his prescription drug addiction so he can get his children back.

“I’m looking for a place where I can start my journey by saying thank you for the things I have already,” Wesley said. “I’ve got kids, brothers, sisters, a dad. That’s mainly my problem — I forgot to be thankful for what I already have. I became very needy and I forgot to be thankful for what I already have. I say thanks for that, I say thanks for being alive.”

Wesley said he just has to push himself, noting he has previously gone without prescription drugs for seven days.

“Last year I went without it for a week,” Wesley said. “By the third or fourth day I was starting to feel good. I was starting to get up without having to fight with myself.”

Beardy said the solution to the prescription drug problem has to involve outside help as well as communities turning back to traditions.

“A lot of First Nations are setting up detox programs but there is no real support from the government in terms of detox, treatment, aftercare and transition,” Beardy said. “The communities can only do so much.”

But Beardy added that the power to heal from the prescription drug crisis lies within the communities themselves.

“The solution is to help reconnect the people, especially the young people, back to our basics, which is our special relationship to the land and to the Creator,” he said.

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