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Identifying sources of addiction and how to tackle them

Complex trauma is what drives some people to become addicts, says an addictions treatment expert in Iqaluit.

Adrián Pérez Ara, an addiction treatment specialist in Iqaluit, says some people are striving for complete abstinence from addictive substances while others aim to be in greater control before or during work or while around family. photo courtesy of Adrián Pérez Ara

Repeated exposures to domestic violence, abuse and neglect would be examples of causes for many cases of addiction, according to Adrián Pérez Ara.

“Complex trauma commonly develops during childhood and adolescence but can also affect adults,” he said, adding that underlying reasons for addiction are numerous and complicated.

The GN hasn't been tracking the overall number of Nunavummiut who seek treatment locally for addictions, but the Department of Health is working towards updating the ways it collects data and those figures should be known in the future, Pérez Ara noted.

The department has a better handle on the number of Nunavummiut sent south for addictions programs since 2016/17 – although not exact figures – it estimates the number at between 32 and 37 people each of those three years. Treatment programs range between 28 days and six months and the GN covers costs associated with attending.

“If the client discloses that they are experiencing problematic substance use and would like to access intensive in-patient treatment, our staff will do its best to match them with the appropriate program for them as soon as possible,” Pérez Ara stated.

Continued support, or aftercare, is admittedly “currently limited” in the territory, Pérez Ara acknowledged.

“Mental health staff in each community are available to support clients post-treatment, no matter how much time has passed since the client accessed the program,” he said. “This support oftentimes takes the form of the standard one-on-one counselling that is available to all community members.”

Each Nunavut community has designated GN positions for mental health and addictions. In total, there are 36 positions for mental health consultants and mental health nurses in the territory, of which only four are vacant, according to Pérez Ara. There are also close to 55 new positions for paraprofessional mental health and addictions staff in the territory – essentially mental health assistants. Of those, 12 are filled by Inuit, Pérez Ara added.

When support staff are not available, the GN can arrange for remote support from Homewood Health, a mental health and addictions services company with locations across southern Canada.

As well, mental health and addictions help is available through several communities such as the Pulaarvik Kablu Friendship Centre in Rankin Inlet and the Department of Healthy Living in Cambridge Bay.

While the Government of Nunavut, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated and the federal government have committed to establishing a treatment centre within the territory, it's anticipated it will take five years. Amittuq MLA Joelie Kaernerk would like to see that timeline expedited.

“I believe the Nunavut government needs to step up and make this happen quickly,” he said. “The service that they're (currently) providing is just for pretty much Iqaluit people and not for the rest of Nunavut so I'm not very satisfied.”

Don't stop trying

Pérez Ara said some people are reluctant to seek treatment for addictions because they don't know what support is available, they're worried about confidentiality and “most of all, the harsh stigma associated with mental health treatment and asking for help.”

Some individuals need to consult counsellors many times before realizing long-term success, according to Pérez Ara, but he said defining success when it comes to conquering addictions can vary from one person to the next.

“For some clients, complete abstinence might be a form of success, while for others it might be abstaining from using before or during work, or around their family,” he stated.

Fact file
Estimated number of Nunavummiut who attended addictions treatment in the south over the past three years:
2016/17 – 37
2017/18 – 32
2018/19 – 37
Souce: Department of Health