There must be a better way to help addicts
At a hearing for a woman accused of going on a drunken rampage last summer in a stolen car on Finlayson Drive damaging several vehicles, a woman’s lawyer talked about her background.
The long-time alcoholic and drug user was having suicidal thoughts after breaking up with her boyfriend when — with .210/mg blood alcohol content (legal limit is .08) — she stole a minivan that Saturday afternoon.
Sadly, those facts alone aren’t unusual, if you sit in court for a while.
Alcohol and drug abuse are the root cause of the great majority of criminality.
But something about this case caught my ear — the lawyer for the 26 year old told court about how her addiction to drugs such as cocaine was being illicitly supported while she was working as a truck driver at an unnamed mine site outside of the city.
“It’s a part of the lifestyle, being a truck driver, working in the mines,” said the lawyer.
Now I’m not naming anyone in this bit, as the woman clearly is struggling and was suicidal at the time of her crimes, for which she was fined $1,500 and handed a one-year driving prohibition.
But I am writing this in the hopes a message can be sent to the mining companies to be a little more vigilant with their employee supervision, as someone could get hurt or killed driving a truck impaired in such a dangerous work site.
The Dene woman in the story above cried as her lawyer described her battles with addiction.
I mention her ancestry as it is important. You see, the woman was sent off to a southern treatment centre, but relapsed a few weeks after she returned.
I hear these stories all the time as I sit in court, notepad in hand, as a volunteer contributor to community station Cabin Radio.
This woman started using when she was 15, said her lawyer.
I’ve heard many other stories about troubling upbringings in homes where parents drink, drug and party all night. Then they fight.
Then they remember they have a kid or two that they’ve been neglecting.
It’s a bloody shame.
The dark residue from parents or grandparents — or both — being in the residential school system is brought up again and again.
These young people — who are trying to make their lives work — are the generation that could start turning things around. That’s what I’ve heard from people on the front lines.
Hopefully, the next generation of Indigenous youth will have a fighting chance to live full, productive and happy lives.
But it’s clear that sending people from the North to the strange environs of a southern addictions treatment centre isn’t working as it should.
So to read about the GNWT still stubbornly refusing to build a live-in treatment centre in the NWT — preferably a couple of them, one in the capital, another in a larger community or two — makes me shake my head in disbelief.
Surely, some federal cash would be available for he bricks and mortar. And savings on transportation alone to Alberta and B.C. would help with operations.
Entering recovery is a very scary thing to do. The addicts needs to be able to fully relate to the staff and others. Recovery is all about sharing and caring and getting ongoing support.
The feds and GNWT just dropped $760,000 boost to improve treatment programs.
“We know that the NWT substance abuse rates are higher than other jurisdictions,” Health Minister Glen Abernethy is reported as saying recently by Northern News Services’ (NNSL) Yellowknifer newspaper.
“We know that substance abuse is often one part of multiple challenges that our residents are facing, including past trauma. The federal funding today is helping us on that path.”
But again, Abernethy ruled out an addictions treatment centre in the territory for the near future.
“I would never say that we will never have a bricks-and-mortar treatment centre in the Northwest Territories but at this point, in order to meet the needs of our residents and provide them the options that they want and the alternatives that they want, funding a bricks and mortar facility doesn’t necessarily meet the needs of our residents,” he said.
Sit in court for a while, minister, and you will hear repeated tales of woe over the failure of shipping addicts south.
There are plenty of physical spaces available in Yellowknife.
And it shouldn’t be as hard to find an address to house people actually attempting to turn their lives around as it was for the GNWT to house their Day Shelter/Sobering Centre in a downtown mixed residential/commercial area, where drunks and druggies have been harassing neighbours and fighting in the street.
Speaking of that Day Shelter/Sobering Centre that opened adjacent to the Northern Lites Motel on 50 Street, it has changed the nature of that block for the worse.
I was at the opening of the place last fall when I was editor of the Yellowknifer.
Sure, it’s a nice, clean modern facility, far from the run-down old house a large block away that previously housed the day shelter.
But as soon as the place opened, people were openly drinking in the NNSL parking lot and harassing workers, many of whom are reporters and editors working late shifts.
Ironically, NNSL owns the former Canarctic Graphics building and is leasing the place to the GNWT. And I’m not blaming NNSL for finding a tenant for an unused building in downtown Yellowknife.
Now I know I sound like a NIMBY — “not in my backyard” — but it’s just a matter of time before something serious happens there.
The city even included cash in their 2019 budget to address “social” issues around the place.
But the security assigned to the shelter doesn’t attend to issues outside the actual property. That’s something that simply has to be addressed by the people running the place, which is ultimately the GNWT.
Every day I went to work at NNSL after the day shelter opened, I found empties strewn about, or people drinking on the property, as you can see in the photo.
It was just a depressing and disturbing situation.
While the interior of the Day Shelter/Sobering Centre is fantastic, the exterior is a breeding ground for trouble.