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Conference to tackle First Nations drug crisis

From link to article by Josh Aldrich ,Feb 8th 2020

Understanding the impact that cannabis, opioids and meth have had on their communities, the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba is holding a conference in Winnipeg to dissect these issues.

Cannabis, Opioids and Crystal Meth: Enhancing a First Nation Context to Health Policy and Models of Care will run Tuesday through Thursday at Canad Inns Polo Park and will bring in more than 250 first nations representatives and health care professionals from around the country.

The conference is a result of an emergency resolution passed by First Nations Chiefs on Sept. 24, 2019 in recognition of the severe opioid addiction problems on Manitoba First Nations.

A study by the University of Manitoba in collaboration with Manitoba Centre for Health Policy that was released in the fall shows how dire the situation is when it comes to opioids. First Nations people are twice as likely to be prescribed opioids than all other Manitobans, our people are also four times as likely to have multiple prescriptions than all other Manitobans and the rates of substance use are three times higher than all other Manitobans.

“There is a really demonstrated need for more action, unfortunately we are seeing a real lack of investment,” said Marsha Simmons, a conference organizer and policy analyst and researcher. “They’ve done this study over the last two decades and they’ve noticed the gap is not closing, it’s getting worse.”


Each day the conference will bring in a number of different speakers to look at a range of topics.

The first day of the conference will look mainly at cannabis since legalization, including many issues the communities are lacking funding to properly address, including raising awareness, communicating new laws, education tool kits and supporting first nations to make evidence based decisions. It will examine both the health and wellness issues it has created but will also examine the benefits it can have for Indigenous communities.

Of note will be Dr. Shelley Turner from Ekosi Health out of Gimli. Her presentation Cannabis: An Opportunity for All First Nations, will examine, in particular the jurisdictional gaps and using cannabis as a solution to one of their major crises.

“She’s leading the way because she’s seeing people benefitting from cannabis and weaning off of opioids,” said Simmons. “Of course no use is best, e don’t want people on any substance, but she’s using cannabis as a tool in the healthcare system.”

On Wednesday, the conference will tackle the destructive nature of the meth crisis. It expands far beyond the borders of Winnipeg and in high density and poverty-stricken situations on some reserves, it effects are compounded.

“It is rampant and certain communities are declaring states of emergency related to this,” said Simmons. “It’s very much an issue and it affects multi-facets within the community.”

The day will focus mostly on harm reduction and treatment options for for first nations and what their communities can do to fight back.

Tim Ominika, a Wiikwemkoong First Nation Councillor, in particular examines this in his presentation Harm Reduction Approach working with Opioid Antagonist Treatment – A First Nation approach ensuring the role of western and Traditional medicines in addressing contemporary health and social issues.

The final day will look at Manitoba specific issues revolving around, cannabis, opioids and methamphetamines.

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