With the legalization of cannabis and the passage of the first full year of Iqaluit's beer and wine store, 2018 has seen some major developments in the efforts to battle addiction in Nunavut.
The move to providing freer access to consumers of cannabis and alcohol is polarizing. For some, these drugs have no place in Nunavut, a territory where substance abuse has had a ruinous effect on far too many families. For others, government involvement is the right approach.
The government would point to research that shows an outright ban on cannabis and alcohol would lead – as it did for so long – to illegal sales by bootleggers in our communities. In other words, the drugs will be here whether they are managed by the government or not. At least now people who choose to consume have access at a more affordable price.
Putting more money back in users' pockets is helpful, especially in a territory where the cost of living is so high. But harm reduction is the main point of legalizing cannabis and opening the beer and wine store in Iqaluit.
We believe this goal will be – and is being – achieved and that beer and wine stores will soon open in Cambridge Bay and Rankin Inlet.
We have to believe it because we've seen the alternative.
The Nunavut government calls alcohol abuse a 'serious health problem', and we'll repeat the RCMP statistic reported to Iqaluit city council a few years ago that there was no point in keeping track of the role of alcohol in the city's crime statistics because it was a factor in virtually every crime report. Around the same time, Chief Justice Robert Kilpatrick said alcohol was a factor in about 90 per cent of crime across the territory.
Tobacco is not a significant driver of crime but it is a key driver of health care costs, and Nunavummiut are the heaviest consumers among fellow Canadians – by a long shot. Eighteen per cent of Canadians smoked in 2014, while 62 per cent of Nunavummiut aged 12 and over smoked. And that figure was higher than any of the previous five years.
A report issued this month by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction showed that Nunavut spent the most per person – $2,652 – to deal with the costs and harms associated with substance abuse, more than double the national average. These costs include lost productivity, health care, and criminal justice. Alcohol accounted for $43 million of the $96 million lost to substance use.
We and other organizations continue to call for a treatment centre, and there were indications from the GN's Quality of Life division's Karen Kabloona in February that a treatment facility was in the works, and NTI president Aluki Kotierk said last month that a feasibility study had been done.
It's still not enough. The facility is overdue.
And so it falls to regular citizens to keep up the pressure on government, to call for better supports and to show the importance of progress. We have to support efforts to reduce the effects of substance use in our territory. There's a lot of work to do.
In the meantime, we need to be strong and show our support for those affected by addiction, to give hope and help them find ways to cope with this health issue that affects us all.