Awareness walk addresses developing drug crisis across the nation

An awareness walk hosted by partnering health services in the Rainy River District will be held to honor National Addictions Awareness Week surrounding the theme “a community of caring” aiming to highlight the harms, preventative measures, and solutions surrounding substance misuse.

The awareness walk will take place on Wednesday, November 23, hosted by Giishkaandago’Ikwe Health Services (FFTAHS), Riverside Health Care, Northwestern Health Unit, United Native Friendship Center, St. Joseph’s Care Group, Canadian Mental Health Association Fort Frances Branch, and the Gizhewaadiziwin Health Access Centre.

Participants will begin walking at around 1:30 p.m. starting at Behavioural Health Services (601 Kings Hwy) and ending at Riverside. An opening prayer and sacred fire will take place at 1:00 p.m. Guest speakers will be sharing stories after the walk and the Rapid Access to Addictions Medicine (RAAM) clinic will have its grand opening.

This year’s continued partnership between health organizations is increasingly vital as the drug crisis continues to develop across the nation.

It was recently reported that more than 10,000 people have lost their lives to the toxic drug supply since British Columbia declared a public health emergency over the crisis six years ago.

Within the Rainy River District, from January to the end of September, there have been a total of 141 drug related charges, according to the northwest region OPP. The most frequent drug related occurrence was for possession of a schedule 1 substance (opioid other than heroin) for the purpose of trafficking.

In Fort Frances, a total of 127 drug related charges have been made.

Autumn Eadie, regional media and communications officer for the northwest region OPP, said that all frontline officers since 2017 have been provided naloxone and applicable training to ensure they are supplied with a sufficient supply when responding to calls for service related to drug occurrences.

“We need the public’s support and assistance in holding drug traffickers accountable by providing information that can lead to arrests and criminal charges,” Eadie said.

She said that anyone with information on drug trafficking can call 1-888-310-1122 or the local police detachment. To remain anonymous, they can contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS) or visit 222tips.ca.

“A community of caring is really talking about how not one person, not one organization, not one committee can tackle the substance misuse epidemic that we’re in right now. It really needs to be a collective effort to try and support individuals,” said Nakita Morrisseau, director of behavioral health services at FFTAHS.

She noted that since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there has been an increasing demand for addictions resources. The detox center is one service under Morrisseau’s supervision, located along Highway 11 about 10 minutes east of Fort Frances. Recent funding has enabled the center to increase the number of beds available.

“We do our best to ensure that our services are as barrier free as possible. Because we are located a little bit outside of Fort Frances, and we don’t have a physician on site, cases where somebody is unstable, or has other symptoms that are beyond the scope of what we can handle, those cases would be supported to go to other services that may be more appropriate. But in general, most clients are eligible for services.”

​​She said that the detox center is only one of the many health service options available, and that clients will be introduced to a list of services based on their personal goals.

“And most of the time when clients come through the door, it’s not just one service that they would access. There are options and referrals facilitated. Ultimately, the client is in the driver’s seat of what that care looks like for them.”

The Rainy River District RAAM clinic, which celebrates its grand opening after the awareness walk, is another health service offered to clients. Located at 206 Victoria Avenue in Fort Frances, the clinic provides a safe space where patients aged 16 and older can get help from a physician, nurse, addiction counselor, or peer support worker for their substance use or addiction.

The RAAM clinic emphasizes that it is not a medical detox nor long term addiction treatment facility, but rather, offers fast access to medication assisted therapy for alcohol and opioid use disorders. To access the RAAM clinic, call 807-274-2042, ext. 6230.

“I’m a firm believer in that there is no shame in asking for help. Everyone who is human struggles at one time in their lives. And I think that there’s just such strength in being able to have that honesty with yourself,” Morrisseau said.

She also notes that counseling is available for the loved ones of those struggling with addictions.

“It’s really important to remember that they’re still your loved one. And sometimes when individuals struggle with substance abuse, they may do things that are not typical to what you’ve been used to seeing. And they’re still in there, it’s just they’re struggling right now.”

“Having that understanding and compassion and loving them unconditionally is super important. Letting them know you love them unconditionally, but also taking care of yourself and putting up those boundaries that you need, because your wellness is also just as important as your loved one that’s struggling.”

Elisa Nguyen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort Frances Times