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Indigenous-led harm reduction project receives $1.2 million from Health Canada

From CTV News by Lyndsay Armstrong June 13 2023

An Indigenous-led harm reduction research project has been given about $1.2 million by Health Canada to investigate treatment options for people living with opioid use disorder.

“I’m very proud of this Indigenous-led, strategic, multi-partnered, research-backed, wellness and harm reduction project,” Roger Augustine, retired Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief for New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, said in a statement Wednesday.

Augustine is the founder of Gitpo Spirit Lodge, which is leading the project based in Natoaganeg, or Eel Ground, First Nation, in New Brunswick.

Gitpo Spirit Lodge, which opened in 2021, is an Indigenous wellness center focused on engaging with tradition to offer harm reduction and wellness programing.

The new pilot project will research the use of cannabinoid products by people currently receiving opioid agonist medications, which include methadone, naloxone or buprenorphine treatment.

Gitpo Spirit Lodge will work with Natoaganeg First Nation and Dr. Shelley Turner, a member of the Pimicikamak First Nation in Cross Lake, Manitoba, who will provide consultation for the cannabinoid-based medicine program. Turner will lead the medical clinical research team.

The research will involve 30 participants that are from Natoaganeg First Nation.

Natoaganeg First Nation Chief George Ginnish said in a statement Wednesday, “we know that there are members in our community who have experienced, or continue to experience, trauma and who are trying to take control of their lives and their futures.”

“This project provides us with an innovative opportunity to help our members who are struggling, and to reduce the harm related to pharmaceutical treatment for opioid addiction challenging our members, our families, and our communities.”

The University of New Brunswick will support the project through non-medical research by collecting and analyzing data associated with the research. Health Canada is putting $1,193,514 to the project through its Substance Use and Addictions Program.

Augustine said the primary goal of this work is to support harm reduction and wellness for community members that have been “regularly excluded from the decisions that affect their lives.”

The structure of the work will support these individuals in “regaining their rightful place in this community, leading active and contributing roles, including leadership.”

The former chief has spent 46 years of his career developing and implementing harm reduction and wellness programs for members of the Natoaganeg community.

“Indigenous Peoples carry a disproportionate burden of the harms related to the toxic drug and overdose crisis, making it imperative that we invest in community-led projects that can connect people with the culturally sensitive and trauma informed supports they need,” Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health Carolyn Bennett said in a statement.

“Today’s funding will directly support Indigenous people and allow Gitpo Spirit Lodge to make a significant difference in helping those who are struggling with substance use.”  

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