Neskantaga First Nation has implemented a drug testing policy for all band staff members in response to the prescription drug abuse issue.
“This was done through a First Nation initiative,” said Neskantaga Chief Roy Moonias. “There was a high demand from the community that they wanted a safe and healthy workplace environment.”
The drug testing policy was officially established Nov. 18 and the community has since brought in a drug compliance officer from another First Nation community to conduct the drug testing.
“It’s a small community so people said it would be better to get somebody from outside so they don’t disclose any confidentialities,” Moonias said.
While the drug testing policy has been working well so far, Moonias said the community has encountered a lack of services for those people who want to quit prescription drugs.
“The closest detox we have is in Thunder Bay,” Moonias said, noting three people have been sent out to treatment so far. “It gets really cumbersome when we have to fly our people out to the detoxification program.”
Moonias said his community took the initiative to move forward because they knew it was a priority.
The community has completed an 18-month consultation process, which included legal advice.
“It’s a start for us, as a small community,” Moonias said. “It gets really costly when you go through that process, the consultation process.”
Strategies to combat prescription drug abuse were discussed last October during a Matawa First Nations conference.
“Those strategies are still in the works and a report will be presented to our chiefs later on in this new year for their review and approval,” said Matawa First Nations CEO David Paul Achneepineskum.
In addition to Neskantaga’s drug testing policy, several of the Matawa communities have been providing back-to-the-land programs for community members.
“They take kids out and have Elders and even parents come out there and meet as a family unit,” Achneepineskum said.
Prescription drug abuse prevention programs are also being implemented in some of the communities to inform community members about the impacts of prescription drug abuse.
“The withdrawal is really very hard,” Achneepineskum said.
“It takes about three weeks for some people to completely withdraw from the drug and there is pain associated with that.”
Achneepineskum said the different measures to deal with prescription drug abuse are slowly making an impact.
“It’s really a struggle,” Achneepineskum. “I think it’s a matter of trying to work with these young people in the schools and have more prevention and education awareness programs.”
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