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Traditional healing for oxy abuse

Thursday May 10, 2012

A traditional teacher is questioning why drugs are being prescribed to people who are already abusing prescription drugs.

“A lot of people are being introduced to methadone to try to address their addiction,” said Ralph Johnson, a traditional teacher from Sioux Lookout. “They have to stay on that drug for at least 10 years, some even longer. So it’s just replacing one drug for another.”

Johnson said a number of his clients have had success in dealing with their prescription drug addiction through traditional healing methods at the Natural Healing program he operates each summer at Rainy Lake.

“They didn’t like just replacing another drug,” Johnson said. “It was pretty effective. We made sure the sweat lodge ceremonies were available to them whenever they needed it, when they were going through a hard time.”

Johnson said the sweat lodge was available every day for the clients, noting when they go into withdrawal they begin feeling pain, become anxious and start shaking.

“As soon as you start feeling those symptoms, you start preparing to go into the sweat lodge,” Johnson said. “It really helps detoxify and take those chemicals out of their system.
It was really effective, but in the news there was no mention of utilizing traditional healing methods as a way to combat addictions.”

Johnson wants people to be aware there are alternatives to healing from prescription drug addictions other than taking more drugs.

“I talked to some of the other sweat lodge keepers in the community here and they feel the same way,” Johnson said. “It’s just that there are no resources directed towards traditional healing, so (for) the traditional healers it’s pretty well up to them to try to come up with their resources to hold the sweats. It’s usually out of their pocket that those services are provided.”

Johnson said the sweat lodge ceremonies usually last from one to two hours, depending on the number of people participating.

Johnson said it usually takes four to five days to get over the extreme withdrawals in his Natural Healing program.

“It’s just a matter of having additional supports there for people after that if they need to talk to somebody,” Johnson said. “Or if again, they need to go into a sweat, then those avenues are made available to them.”

Although 15-20 clients usually attend each session of the Natural Healing program, which operates for one week once every month throughout the summer months, Johnson said most of his clients are attending for reasons other than prescription drug abuse.

“When we first started getting people who were addicted to OxyContin, that’s when we changed our program and started doing sweats every day,” Johnson said.

Johnson said his clients are usually in a different frame of mind after undergoing the Natural Healing program.

“They learn a different way of looking at life,” Johnson said. “We’ve had a lot of positive feedback from the people who came.”

Johnson said the Natural Healing program includes a teaching lodge and other healing avenues in addition to the sweat lodge.

“Some people will go out on the island and do some healing work,” Johnson said. “There are emotions, so people are given instruction on how to work through that. We also have available to us not only counselling but other forms of therapy, like focusing as an avenue for people that are interested in sitting one on one with somebody.”

Johnson said everyone attending the Natural Healing program is in charge of their own healing and many volunteer to cook breakfast, lunch and supper.

“There’s also people working constantly to make sure there is wood for the sweats, grandfathers and the area is cleaned out,” Johnson said. “So everybody participates.”

The first session of this year’s Natural Healing program is scheduled to begin on May 27.

While Johnson said the Natural Healing program is as effective as other prescription drug abuse programs, he knows of some clients who started abusing prescription drugs again about six to seven months after completing their session.

“But they didn’t have any access to any supports in their community,” Johnson said.

Johnson is now considering setting up a sweat lodge in the Sioux Lookout area to provide services to clients throughout the whole year.

“If you’re dealing with addictions like that, you have to be prepared to run sweats every day,” Johnson said. “That takes a lot of resources and a lot of time and energy, but when we’re out at Rainy Lake we have a lot of volunteers.”

Johnson would like to see a healing centre established in Sioux Lookout for housing and treating people through traditional healing methods.

A Health Canada spokeswoman said the National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program and National Youth Solvent Abuse Program both incorporate a combination of mainstream and traditional approaches to support healing from substance use issues, including prescription drug abuse.

“Under the Non-Insured Health Benefits program, Health Canada facilitates access to traditional healers in two ways,” said Olivia Caron, media relations officer with Health Canada. “Health Canada will provide coverage for travel, accommodations and meals for a client to see a traditional healer, based on specific criteria. When more than one client from the same community would like to access the services of a traditional healer or where it makes more sense to bring the healer to the community, Health Canada, under the NIHB Program, will provide coverage for travel and accommodations and meals while in transit for the healer to get to the community.”

Caron said Health Canada also provides eligible former residential school students and their families with access to mental health and emotional supports, including access to community-based Elders and traditional healers, as they participate in all phases of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, through the Indian Residential School Resolution Health Support Program.


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