GNWT planning mobile addictions treatment option

GNWT planning mobile addictions treatment option
Health and Social Services Minister Glen Abernethy says mobile treatment is one of the options he wants to give NWT residents struggling with addictions.Photo: Meagan Wohlberg.

Health officials in the Northwest Territories are hoping to combine the programming of the south with the facilities of the North to bring addictions treatment to residents in their home communities via a mobile service.

Health and Social Services Minister Glen Abernethy was once again pressed on the absence of an addictions treatment facility in the territory last week, and said the department continues to work on establishing a model that will work for the NWT.

Building another facility, he said, is not the way to do it.

“We’ve had four treatment facilities in the Northwest Territories. Every one of them has failed. One of the major reasons they tend to fail is because economies of scale – we can’t get enough people into them,” the minister shared with The Journal last week.

The lack of a treatment facility in the territory means those seeking help for their addictions outside of the available community counselling framework are currently being sent to four partner detox facilities in Alberta and B.C.

While those programs are seeing “great results,” Abernethy said it’s important for people to have options, which is why the department has dedicated $1.2 million toward the creation of on-the-land programming with Aboriginal governments and is now looking at a mobile treatment option.

Though still in the program development phase, the concept is clear: using existing facilities in the various regions throughout the NWT, staff with an addictions treatment program would travel from community to community, stopping for 48 days or whatever the length of treatment happens to be, to run their programming. While the program would be most accessible to locals, it would also be open to any NWT resident.

“It’s about the program, not about the location,” Abernethy said. “The program has to be solid, it has to be meaningful and it has to be able to provide people with the skills and supports they need so they can be successful in the long term, and we need that program to be able to go to these different locations and use the facilities that already exist.”

Abernethy said the department is still actively looking for a partner organization to help create and carry out a successful program capable of delivering quality addictions treatment in a way that is flexible enough to meet the varying needs and cultural differences of each community.

The challenge of coming up with a program that hits all those necessary targets means developing mobile treatment is taking longer than anticipated, though Abernethy said residents should expect a pilot to be launched before the end of the 17th Assembly, location to be determined.

Since linking up with the four southern facilities, Abernethy said the department has managed to expedite the admission process, with some individuals being approved for residential treatment within a day and at the facility within 48 hours. Those individuals are instantly connected with psychiatrists and psychologists, along with a range of programs that are currently unavailable in the North.

Though the mobile program won’t necessarily be able to provide all those pieces, it will be beneficial for those who can’t or don’t wish to travel to the south for treatment.

“We might find that people who go to this mobile option decide, you know what, you’re right, I do need to go to that southern facility, but all those options have to be available,” Abernethy said.

“Everybody has to take their own path. We need to make sure the programs exist so that individuals can take the path that’s most appropriate for them to get to their own individual healing. I don’t believe in cookie cutters.”

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