Addictions treatment survey shows residents want more community services in the NWT

Julie Green, minister of Health and Social Services. (Screen capture)

Addictions recovery is different for every individual, which is why the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) will not be building a treatment centre, as the NWT consists of different cultures and languages. 

It’s National Addictions Awareness Week and the GNWT published the report for Addictions Recovery Experiences Survey that took place from February to March of this year. There were 439 survey participants  with the majority being Indigenous, two-thirds being women and a vast majority being between the ages of 20 and 64. 

The survey showed  one-on-one counselling to be the most used followed by healthcare services, peer support, facility based treatment and group counselling. As well, the territorial government found that an individual will use more than one service at a time depending on their needs.

Of the services being used, the satisfaction rate is 80 per cent overall for safety and confidentiality. However the data shows the lack of satisfaction in respect for individual needs, overall changes in an individual’s life, detox and withdrawal services. 

“Overall, these findings are important as they point to areas where we could make improvements but they also highlight areas where we’re doing well,” says Julie Green, Minister of the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority (NTHSSA).

On the survey, individuals were asked what they wanted to access but couldn’t. Land-based healing was the number one result, followed by community-based treatment, facility-based treatment and detox or withdrawal services. 

“So this, this is giving us a good idea of the priority setting that we need to engage in to meet the needs of people who are accessing our services,” says Green.

In accessing services in communities, individuals either stated that it wasn’t available or they weren’t aware of the service being offered.

Facility-based treatment

Of the survey participants, 115 went to facility-based treatment. 85 per cent of those participants completed the program. 

“There were generally high levels of satisfaction reported across the board for treatment programs,” says Green. 

Two-thirds of the participants said they want to have an NWT-based treatment facility. The number one reason being individuals do not want to travel, as well as culturally relevant programming, the need to stay close to home and family. On the other hand, 33 per cent said a treatment facility would not meet specific cultural needs. 

Relapse is another subject the survey touched on. It showed the top three things that drive relapse are: a lack of supportive social networks, a lack of supports and services in the community, and the lack of proper planning for recovery.

On recovery, they found that support from family and others who are also in recovery to be the most common preferred support system. 

Key themes

Looking at the survey, there are key themes such as the importance of increasing access to services in communities, reducing stigma, and addressing racism within the system in order to have culturally-safe services and supports, as well as the importance of confidentiality in order for individuals to feel secure in accessing services and the need for local treatment options.

During a recent press conference, Green also mentioned the Alcohol Strategy is due in January when it will be circulated for feedback. 

“With the results of this survey, we will be able to plan future programming and priority setting to reflect the needs and wants of residents,“ she said. 

Based on feedback, Green said there will be no territory-wide treatment centres as they have not been successful. 

“Although having said that, we are, as you may know, planning a wellness and recovery centre for Yellowknife, which will open in 2024. So that will certainly help with addictions recovery and mental wellness, but it will not be a residential treatment centre of the kind that we contract in the South.”

Community-based options

Sara Chorostkowski, the director of Mental Health and Addictions recovery at NTHSSA, further added that they’re “trying to enhance the community based supports for people” as a treatment centre is just one part of the recovery journey. 

“We can see where there’s already work that’s going on in terms of the elimination of wait times for counselling, same day access, enhancements to the land-based healing,” she said. “We’re working to enhance supports at the community level through peer support funds and funds to hire locally based and traditional counsellors.” 

When asked about community-based services, Green added that there are funds that communities can apply to and provide their own services.

Looking at the survey, there is a lack of people under 20 years old that participated. 

Green said, “It takes people a while to get around to acknowledge the problem and get around to treatment…(it’s) one possible reason that there’s a clump of responses in that 35 to 49-year old category.”

Brie Denning, Senior Advisor for Problematic Substance use for the NTHSSA, added that the territorial government were surprised as “online surveys tend to attract a younger audience”. The survey at the time was shared over social media and regular media. 

“You have to not only have a substance use disorder that’s severe enough to be causing you harm, but make those steps to say, ‘Yes, I need help.’ That tends to be a very, very difficult step for a lot of people who might want to not admit that they have an issue,” says Denning. “Most people are well into adulthood and have suffered a lot of consequences of their substance use by the time they actually access treatment services.”