Prescription Drug Abuse on Canadian Reservation

Sixth grade children living on the Cat Lake reserve in Ontario, Canada have a message for their parents and the other adults in their community: “Please go for treatment and get HEALTHY!”.

The message was part of a letter composed as a response to the prescription drug epidemic on the Canadian reservation. Between 70 and 80% of adults living there are addicted to painkillers like OxyContin or Percocet. The area, located in the northwestern section of Ontario, has been slammed in recent years with this powerful addiction. Out of a population of about 700, local officials say they collect 500 needles a week through the needle-exchange program. They have put 172 adults on their list of confirmed addicts; another 250 are suspected. Almost everyone else is either a child or an elder. (1)

A Costly Addiction

The cost of this addiction is outrageous. Now that OxyContin has been taken off the market in the area, users can expect to pay $1,000 per pill. This means that a lot of families are going without necessities in order to support the addiction. The children are suffering and are some of the only residents who recognize what’s going on. Their letter to their parents goes on to say: “We feel that we don’t know what to do to help you stop doing Drug. We want you to stop because it hurts our family and we don’t like it when we’re angry.” (2)

Providing Treatment

When the children of a community have a message like: “STOP Now! We want you to get help and get better,” the adults better listen. However, getting into a successful treatment program is more difficult in area like Cat Lake, Canada. Up until now there have been no treatment programs in Cat Lake, and nearby communities are just beginning to set up medical treatment programs, using medications such as Suboxone to help with detox and recovery.

Administrators and health professionals are now also working to establish a treatment facility in Cat Lake, which is in dire need of help. But even this proposed program will be using non-traditional techniques to help its residents. After a week of Suboxone treatment in a medical facility, the rest of the treatment program would be completed out in the bush. Patients would spend the next few weeks camping, hunting, fishing, and getting back to nature (under the supervision of a health professional) to finish off their recovery. The new program, scheduled to start April 30th, has 3 addicts registered already, and 15 more on the waiting list. Many people are still worried, however, that the minute these people go back to their life on the drug-infested reservation, they will get caught up in the addiction again. Other treatment professionals are advocating for long term care for patients in Cat Lake, to offer them the best chance at success.


(1) Doctor wants action on First Nation drug crisis

(2) First Nations children send distressing letter to addicted parents

Addicted on the reserve: ‘Now my kids are being taken away’

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