By Lindsey Enns
A panel representing the four pillars, prevention, harm reduction, treatment and enforcement, gathered last Wednesday at the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association’s annual meeting and conference in Kenora to discuss the new ways they are dealing with drugs in our communities.
“Drugs and alcohol fuel 95 per cent of the criminal activity that exists in our communities,” Dave Lucas, OPP officer and member of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Task Force said.
“We need to be able to provide these offenders with a plan for success, something that fits every individual’s needs and something that is linked to the court process.”
Speaking on behalf of the prevention pillar was Michelle Ott of Firefly, representing the harm reduction pillar was Gillian Lunny, manager of the Northwest Health Unit, on behalf of the treatment pillar was Patti Dryden-Holmstrom, Lake of the Woods Hospital-Morningstar Centre and lastly Constable Bob Bernie and Inspector Dave Lucas of the Kenora OPP represented the enforcement pillar. This new drug strategy implemented in Ontario and across Canada, consists of a comprehensive action plan that forces the community to work together in order to reduce substance abuse and its impact on the community. So far this strategy has had proven results in both Toronto and Vancouver.
“As a police officer, I see firsthand the damage that substance abuse has to our communities and the young lives that are being lost daily because of it. This is my motivation,” Bernie said.
The Task Force in Kenora spent the majority of 2011 raising awareness about the four pillars and educating youth in the community. Promoting and branding this strategy was also a big part of it. Promotional activity included hiring a graphic designer from within the Task Force, Mike Newton, to design a new logo and make a website, substanceabuse.kenora.ca.
“Social media is a very powerful tool and we are trying to tap into that,” Bernie said.
“This is crucial to communicating with our key demographic. This is how young people get their information nowadays so we are trying to use this to our advantage.”
But that doesn’t mean prevention can’t start at home.
“Prevention needs to start early at home within the family unit, we are trying to develop ways in which families can become more involved in this process,” Ott said.
A survey done in northern Ontario concluded that youth in this region are the highest users of alcohol and caffeinated drinks, something that can be purchased just about anywhere. Staggering results from the same survey showed that 24 per cent of northern Ontario students drink at a harmful rate and 19 per cent admitted to being drunk at school.
“We still have a lot of work to do but we want to try and exceed our expectations
On behalf of the harm reduction pillar, Lunny says that there needs to be immediate relief when it comes to injecting harmful drugs.
“We need to meet people where they’re at, not where they need to be,” Lunny said.
Dryden-Holmstrom on behalf of the treatment pillar says that the new strategy’s mandates are only guidelines that can always be altered.
“Instead of saying we can’t, we now say that we can try,” Dryden-Holmstrom said.
“This is our way of moving forward and providing better services.”
Stronger communication within the community, she says is starting to change things for the better.
“Quality of life and building resources are our top priorities. We want people to be healthy and be able to participate within the community.”
After representatives from each pillar had time to speak, there was still one issue that needed to be addressed. Gwen Garbutt retired health counselor from O’Connor Township asked about new addiction strategies for OxyContin and why doctors aren’t being held accountable for over prescribing the drug.
“Doctors act like Gods when they are writing these prescriptions and they should start paying the price for it,” Grabutt said.
“I have kids and they have kids. There needs to be rules and standards for this.”
Dryden-Holmstrom explained that physicians with higher prescribing practices are reviewed when necessary. But now that OxyContin has been delisted and a clear addiction strategy is nowhere to be found, those going through withdrawal will soon start looking for other substances to abuse.
“There are still possibilities that this drug will find its way in to small isolated communities, if not, abusers will turn to other things to help fill the void like damaging gasoline solvents or possibly heroin,” Bernie said.
“We are just bracing ourselves for what’s next.”