First Nations hardest hit by opioid crisis, northern MPP cites lack of 'political will' to solve it
Opioid deaths and hospitalization have soared across Ontario in recent years, but reports commissioned by the Chiefs of Ontario (COO) reaffirms that First Nations people have been hardest hit by the crisis.
The reports show that opioid death rates among Indigenous people jumped just over 130 per cent in 2020, while the rest of the population saw an almost 70 per cent increase.
Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare told CTV News that people are tired of studying the issue. The numbers are understood, he's said, adding that he pleaded with governments to act.
"Look where we are, a year and a half later, and how many numbers?" Hare said in an interview.
"How many numbers already of our kids gone? It's a lot. So yeah, we're 'studied out.'"
Mental health and addiction treatment centres, safe consumption sites, and housing are among the asks that have gone unanswered, Hare said.
Clean water is also a necessity in all First Nations communities, he said, which would let people have good hygiene and hydration, thereby giving them the mental focus needed to solve other social issues.
Hare wants to see policies to address the overprescribing of opioids for pain relief.
"They're too strong, people get hooked. And once they're hooked ... there's only a one-way street for them," he said.
Timmins is one of the communities that have had to 'go it alone,' according to local New Democrat MPP Gilles Bisson, which he said is saddening amidst a lack of provincial action.
He said Queens Park could make a lasting change if it had the political will, but that there's been a reluctance to take the necessary steps.
"We need to decriminalize simple possession. We need to make sure there's safe supply and clinics where they can do that supervised," Bisson said in an interview.
"We need to wrap services around the individual right away. When a person says, 'I want help,' you've got to provide help right away because they won't feel like it the next day."
The office for the associate mental health and addictions minister told CTV News it has promised the $36 million investment in culturally-appropriate care for Indigenous people announced in October is proof that the province is committed to developing an 'Indigenous-driven' strategy to address the opioid crisis.
"With this investment, we’re taking an essential step in building productive working relationships and ensuring Indigenous communities throughout the province have access to culturally appropriate mental health and additions support, when and where they need it," the associate minister's office said in an email.
Hare said people have grown tired of unfulfilled promises and election pandering, and that he would like to see active collaboration between First Nations, government, and local agencies.
The pandemic has proved how Indigenous communities and government can work to manage a crisis, he said.
"We work well together, let's keep going like that."