The Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) has announced three major initiatives aimed at supporting those struggling with substance use disorder and addressing their “urgent and growing public health needs.”
KDFN Chief Doris Bill outlined the three major initiatives during a press conference over Zoom on Feb. 11, highlighting plans that will allow KDFN citizens to access private treatment when there are no other options available; a supported living residence with a managed alcohol program for men; and drug testing services at KDFN’s Natsékhi Kų̀ Health Centre where drugs will be able to be tested for fentanyl and benzodiazapines.
Before speaking to each of the new services, Bill reflected on the current situation in the territory, noting the 30 opioid deaths that have occurred since 2021, including 23 in 2021 and at least seven in 2022. She offered her condolences to families and friends who have lost loved ones with the crisis.
“Our collective hearts are broken,” she said. “It’s time to take action.”
People need support where they’re at, she said.
“This is about saving lives,” Bill said, urging those suffering with addiction to know they are not alone and that they can reach out for support.
She also emphasized there are dangerous drugs on the streets and those who are going to use should make sure they know what they are using.
She first outlined the plans to make private treatment across Canada available to the KDFN citizens when no other option is available. The First Nation is putting $500,000 over two years towards the effort. As she noted, this will help address a gap for those who may be facing waiting lists for public programs. It’s important, she said, that citizens can access treatment when they are ready.
Clients will need to complete some pre-program work to prepare for the treatment program, and they will work with KDFN’s health and wellness team to select the program that best fits their needs.
Bill then went on to highlight the plans for Sarah’s House. Work is underway to get nursing and support staff in place for “a safe and stable residence for men who need support managing their day-to-day health needs and chronic alcohol use.”
The Managed Alcohol Program (MAP), will see residents receive regular medically prescribed doses of alcohol.
“The intent is to stabilize drinking patterns, eliminate the need for binge drinking, help decrease alcohol consumption over time, and reduce some negative impacts of chronic alcohol use,” the First Nation said in a statement.
The work to establish the residence saw a duplex in McIntyre converted into an eight-bedroom home. It is named for KDFN citizen Sarah MacIntosh, who used to live in the home with Wendy Carlick.
“Both women were well-known in the community for their kindness and compassion,” it was noted. “In 2017, they were murdered. KDFN worked with the MacIntosh family to name the home after Sarah to honour and remember the positive impact she had on the community.”
Christina Sim, director of the Natsékhi Kų̀ Health Centre, said there will be a nurse and support worker on staff in the home 24/7 with residents also able to access other health programming through the First Nation.
Bill said efforts towards such a program have been in the works for years, with KDFN officials visiting a similar facility in Edmonton as it worked to develop Sarah’s House.
While the house is anticipated to open in the spring, depending on staffing, the First Nation will be taking a phased approach to move-ins with a couple of residents moving in at a time.
Sim also noted the housing will be permanent housing with residents contributing some rent.
Those interested in either the private treatment option or Sarah’s House are encouraged to contact the health centre where counsellors are available to work with clients to find out if a program is right for them.
Finally, under the drug testing program, anyone can access the health centre to get their drugs tested for fentanyl right now. Testing for benzodiazapines will be available in the near future.
Bill emphasized those wanting to get their drugs tested at the health centre do not need to be KDFN citizens. It’s a service available to anyone, she said, also emphasizing the service is confidential.
The health centre received an exemption to the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to provide the testing service, which KDFN nurses already help offer as well through the Whitehorse Outreach Van.
Along with the drug testing services through both the health centre and outreach van, the First Nation also provides a number of harm reduction supports at the health centre, outreach van and downtown outreach clinic, including a safe needle exchange, naloxone training and kit distribution, drug use reduction education and referrals, safe drug disposal, and suboxone therapy (a prescription treatment for people addicted to opioids, which KDFN only offers through physician services at the health centre.)
The health centre can be reached at 867-668-7289.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org