To aid in the battle against prescription drug and alcohol abuse, 14 health and social workers from Keewaytinook Okimakanak (KO) communities have graduated from an addictions training program to work on the frontlines.
The graduates received their certificates from the Canadian Council of Professional Certification in a ceremony in Winnipeg on July 6. Members of Keewaywin, Deer Lake, Poplar Hill, North Spirit Lake, and Fort Severn completed the eight-week training program.
The program included on-site training in Keewaywin and Red Lake and online training from their communities, complemented by video conferencing. The trainees also spent time in the Pritchard House treatment centre in Dryden, where they took part in actual healing sessions to experience the treatment process first-hand.
KO Health Director Robert Thomas said the program arose out of a survey conducted by the organization, which found that 70 to 80 per cent of KO members are experiencing some form of alcohol or prescription drug addiction.
“The KO chiefs directed the KO health department to look into how to alleviate the (prescription drug abuse) and alcohol issues, and in the short term, this is what we came up with,” Thomas said.
Thomas said there is a lack of training and support in the communities to deal with addictions, and often psychologists and workers from outside the communities have to be brought in.
When community members wish to receive treatment, they can wait at least a year to get into a treatment centre. When they do finally get in, they have to leave the community for treatment.
“In the survey, there’s a preference to have that treatment closer to community rather than sending people away,” said Eric Shirt, one of the program facilitators. And because there is a lack of support workers in the communities, when they return, “the relapse rate is almost 100 per cent.”
By having well-trained frontline workers in each community, Thomas said the goal is that they will provide support and be a positive influence on the community members.
“I think if we can start off with one person per community, we can escalate to two workers per community to help the addicts,” he said. “There’s hope.”
The training program is the first part of a larger plan to have a mobile treatment program travelling to each KO community for six weeks at a time to provide treatment for recovering addicts so that they can sober up together.
“One of the things we discovered is that we need really strong frontline workers for the program to be a success,” Thomas said.
Thomas and Shirt made an analogy to sticks, where one stick (a recovering addict) is easy to break (relapse) but 20 sticks will be much more difficult to break.
“In the KO region, we have 14 graduates, and now that team is much stronger and the support will be there,” Thomas said.
KO has submitted a proposal to Health Canada to fund the mobile treatment program. Ideally, Thomas said, they would like capital funding to construct treatment centres in each community, but this program is an alternative that they hope will prove to be effective.
“With the mobile treatment, it’ll provide services right now,” Thomas said. “If we can demonstrate it to be successful, we hope it will be an annual thing.”
For now, Thomas is pleased with the turnout of the addictions training program, as all who started the program went on to complete it.
“For one program to have 14 graduates is a very high number,” he said. “I think it’s pretty good for a first round.”
National Indigenous Peoples Day which takes place on June 21 and the wider National Indigenous History Month in June is a significant time for Indigenous...