- ELEMENT 1 – COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT, UNIVERSAL PREVENTION, AND HEALTH PROMOTION
- ELEMENT 2 – EARLY IDENTIFICATION, BRIEF INTERVENTION AND AFTERCARE
First Nations people face major challenges such as high unemployment, poverty, poor access to education, poor housing, remote location from health services, the displacement of Indigenous language and culture, and social and economic marginalization; all of which continue to impact their health and well-being. In this context, substance use issues and associated mental health issues continue to be some of the more visible and dramatic symptoms of these underlying challenges. The use and abuse of substances has been consistently noted as a top priority by First Nations people and leadership. In fact, a national survey of First Nations communities (completed between 2008–2010) reported that alcohol and drug use and abuse was considered to be the number one challenge for community wellness faced by on-reserve communities (82.6% of respondents), followed by housing (70.7%) and employment (65.9%).1
The primary network in place to respond to First Nations substance use issues is the National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program (NNADAP). NNADAP was one of the first programs developed in response to community needs. It evolved from the National Native Alcohol Abuse Program (a pilot project in 1974) to a Cabinet-approved program in 1982. This network of on-reserve addiction services has since evolved into 49 NNADAP alcohol and drug abuse treatment centres, more than 550 NNADAP community-based prevention programs, and since 1995, a network of National Youth Solvent Abuse Program (NYSAP) residential treatment centres which now includes 9 centres across Canada.2 In the North, NNADAP funding is transferred to the Governments of Northwest Territories and Nunavut under the 1988 Northwest Territories Health Transfer Agreement and through the creation of Nunavut in 1999. Yukon First Nations receive funding for the prevention and treatment components of NNADAP, some through contribution agreements and some through their authority as self-governing First Nations. Northern First Nations and Inuit either attend an alcohol and drug treatment centre operated by the respective territorial government or are transported to the closest appropriate treatment centre South of 60, as per Non-Insured Health Benefits Program (NIHB) policy. In addition to NNADAP/NYSAP, First Nations also access substance use and mental health-related services from other sectors throughout the health care system both on- and off-reserve, as well as various other systems and sectors, including social services, child welfare, justice, housing, education, and employment.
These various systems of care are faced with increasingly complex needs: new drugs; more people reporting associated mental health issues; a rapidly growing First Nations youth population;3 and growing prescription drug abuse concerns in some regions and communities. These factors have dramatically changed the landscape upon which systems were designed. With diverse systems and increasingly complex needs, a challenge for communities, regions, and all levels of government is to coordinate a broad range of services and supports to ensure First Nations have access to a comprehensive client-centred continuum of care.
In response to this need, in 2007, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), the National Native Addiction Partnership Foundation (NNAPF), and the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB) of Health Canada oversaw a comprehensive, community-driven review of substance use-related services and supports for First Nations people in Canada. This review was led nationally by the First Nations Addictions Advisory Panel (see Appendix A for a list of Advisory Panel members), which was responsible for both guiding the process and developing a national framework. The review was also informed by the First Nations and Inuit Mental Wellness Advisory Committee’s Strategic Action Plan for First Nations and Inuit Mental Wellness, which was developed in 2007 to provide national strategic advice on efforts related to First Nations and Inuit wellness. From 2007 to 2011, the review included a wide range of knowledge-gathering and consensus-building activities, including regional addiction needs assessments; a national forum; a series of research papers; regional workshops; and an Indigenous knowledge forum. These activities directly engaged community members, treatment centre workers, community-based addiction workers, health administrators, First Nations leadership, Elders, provincial service providers, researchers, and policy makers to develop and shape a renewed approach for community, regional, and national responses to substance use issues among First Nations people in Canada. Honouring Our Strengths: A Renewed Framework to Address Substance Use Issues Among First Nations People in Canada was developed based on this process of engagement and feedback.
Honouring Our Strengths outlines a continuum of care in order to support strengthened community, regional, and national responses to substance use issues. It provides direction and identifies opportunities to ensure that individuals, families, and communities have access to appropriate, culturally-relevant services and supports based on their needs at any point in their healing process. This vision is intended to guide the delivery, design, and coordination of services at all levels of the program. This approach recognizes that responsibility for a strengthened system of care includes individual responsibility for managing one’s own health, communal responsibility among First Nations people, and a system-wide responsibility that rests with individuals, organizations, government departments, and other partners. The focus of the framework is on addressing substance use issues; however, it also considers the important roles mental health and well-being play in all aspects of care, including prevention, early identification, intervention, and follow-up. In addition, it recognizes that community development and capacity building are central to more self-determined substance use and mental health services and supports.
The continuum of care outlined in this framework consists of six key elements of care. These six elements respond to the needs of individuals, families, and communities with a wide range of substance use issues. They are also designed to meet population needs throughout the life-span and across unique groups (e.g., women, youth, and those affected by mental health issues). These elements are as follows:
• Element 1: Community Development, Universal Prevention, and Health Promotion: Element 1 includes broad efforts that draw upon social and cultural systems and networks of support for people, families, and communities. These supports, including formal and informal community development, prevention, and health promotion measures, provide the basis for a healthy population and are accessible to the broader community.
• Element 2: Early Identification, Brief Intervention, and Aftercare: Element 2 is intended to respond to the needs of people with at least moderate levels of risk with respect to a substance use issue. Services and supports in this element help to identify, intervene, and support those in need of care with the goal of intervening before substance use issues become more severe. These services may also provide ongoing support to those who have completed more intensive services (such as active or specialized treatment).
• Element 3: Secondary Risk Reduction: Element 3 seeks to engage people and communities at high risk of harm due to substance use issues and who may not be receiving support (e.g., Personal: physical injuries, becoming a victim of sexual assault/abuse, domestic abuse, car accidents, suicide, and HIV and/or Hepatitis C infections; or Community: crime, lost productivity, increased needs with unmatched resources for health, child welfare, and enforcement). These services and supports seek to reduce the risk to individuals and communities through targeted activities that engage people at risk and connect them with care that is appropriate for their needs.
• Elements 4: Active Treatment: Element 4 is focused on people with substance use issues that are moderate to severe in their complexity. This element involves more intensive services than those found in the previous element, and may include a range of supports (e.g., withdrawal management, pre-treatment, treatment programming, aftercare, and case management) provided by various service providers. These can be community-based or they may be part of outpatient programs. Having an aftercare stage or a second phase of care that provides active support and structure makes it easier for clients to slowly return to the community for longer-term recovery work.
• Element 5: Specialized Treatment: In contrast to Element 4, Element 5 provides active treatment for people whose substance use issues are highly complex or severe. People who require care in this element often have highly acute and/or complex substance use issues, diagnosed mental health disorders, mental illness, and other conditions like as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Specialized services usually required can include medically-based detoxification and psychiatric services, as well as culturally-based interventions.
Figure 1: Elements of Care
• Element 6: Care Facilitation: Element 6 involves active and planned support for clients and families to find services in the right element, transition from one element to another, and connect with a broad range of services and supports to meet their health and social needs (e.g., cultural supports, housing, job training, jobs, education, and parenting skills). Whether through formal case management or other forms of community-based or professional support, care facilitation involves efforts to stay connected with clients, especially when various service components are not well integrated. Six key supports to the continuum of care have also been identified in the framework. These include: workforce development; governance and coordination of and within the system; addressing mental health needs; performance measurement and research; pharmacological approaches; and accreditation.
While the framework is first intended to influence change in the current NNADAP and NYSAP programs, it is also an evidence-based framework to guide the design, delivery, and evaluation of substance use and mental health programs that serve First Nations populations in other jurisdictions. These include provinces, territories, First Nations self governments, and transferred health programs within First Nations communities. This framework benefits from extensive engagement with First Nations people across Canada through the networks of the three partners to this process: the AFN health technicians and First Nations political system; the NNAPF networks of NNADAP and NYSAP workers; and the Health Canada First Nations and Inuit Health Regional Program Advisors.
Honouring Our Strengths has the benefit of a team tasked with guiding, advocating, and supporting its implementation. The NNADAP Renewal Leadership Team is a national committee with broad, cross-Canada representation from areas such as prevention, treatment, culture, youth, policy, health, nursing, public health, and research who will guide the implementation of the framework’s renewal opportunities. Facilitating and influencing change, where change is possible, is critical to maintaining the momentum that has been generated through the regional needs assessments and in the development of this framework.
>> Process of Renewal
Honouring our Strengths: A Renewed Framework to Address Substance Use Issues Among First Nations People in Canada outlines a comprehensive continuum of services and supports, inclusive of multiple jurisdictions and partners, to strengthen community, regional, and national responses to substance use and associated mental health issues among First Nations people in Canada.
There is currently a range of federally-funded mental health and addictions programs in place for First Nations and Inuit communities that are aimed at improving their physical, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being. These programs include: Building Healthy Communities; Brighter Futures; NNADAP—Residential Treatment; NNADAP—Community-based Services, and NYSAP. Other programs that were not included in the process of renewal are the Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program (IRS-RHSP); and the National Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy (NAYSPS). These programs vary in their scope, application, and availability, but generally provide community-based services to First Nations people living on-reserve and Inuit living in the North.
First Nations substance abuse prevention and treatment services have continued to evolve throughout their history. In the beginning, NNADAP services were largely based on the Alcoholics Anonymous model, with the main difference being the infusion of First Nations cultures. Over time, many treatment centres have moved toward the use of other therapeutic interventions, such as cognitive behavioural approaches, while also strengthening their culturally-specific interventions and incorporating more mental health-focused services. In addition, since the NNADAP network was further expanded in 1995 to include NYSAP treatment centres, communities have had access to a range of highly innovative and effective treatment programming for First Nations youth.
NNADAP and NYSAP’s many successes over the years can be largely attributed to First Nations ownership of the services, as well as the creativity, dedication, motivation, and innovation of NNADAP workers. NNADAP centres and workers have continued to show their commitment to strengthening the program by pursuing accreditation and certification, respectively. Through the creation of community NNADAP worker positions, NNADAP has contributed to the development of local leadership. In addition, many former NNADAP workers have gone on to pursue post secondary education and have moved into high level positions within the community, as well as taking on roles in the public and private sectors. The NNADAP Storybook: Celebrating 25 Years also demonstrates the significant impact NNADAP has had within First Nation communities.
NNADAP has been reviewed several times during its long history. Most recently, the 1998 NNADAP General Review generated 37 recommendations, including the need for communities, regions, and all levels of government to better coordinate services and supports to meet the needs of First Nations communities. Since 1998, some of these recommendations have been addressed, while others are informing current renewal efforts. Since the review, the urgency and complexity of issues facing communities have increased. Prescription drug abuse has emerged as a major issue in many communities, and the recognition of the unique treatment needs of certain populations (e.g., youth, women, and people with mental health issues), has also become more defined. Likewise, the number of people who specifically identify their trauma and associated substance use issues as being linked to Indian Residential Schools and child welfare experience has also increased. There is broad recognition of the need for strong health promotion, prevention, early identification and intervention services within the context of community development for the rapidly growing First Nations youth population.
Based on these and other emerging needs, the process of renewal developed as a result of a partnership between the AFN, NNAPF, and Health Canada. It has been led nationally by the First Nations Addictions Advisory Panel, which included addictions researchers, health professionals, Elders, and First Nations community representatives, who both guided the process and were tasked with developing this national framework. Significant guidance and support has also been received from regional networks including AFN Regional Health Technician Network, NNAPF regional networks, and Health Canada First Nations and Inuit Health Regions and their partners. Renewal officially began in 2007 and has involved a wide range of activities aimed at informing a strengthened systems approach to community, regional, and national service delivery. These activities have included regional addiction needs assessments; a national forum to identify key renewal directions; a series of research papers; and an Indigenous knowledge forum. Activities have involved community stakeholders and those most directly involved in providing services to clients at a local level.
Announced in 2007, the National Anti-Drug Strategy (NADS) represents the most significant investment in NNADAP since its creation in the 1980s. Under the NADS, the Government of Canada committed $30.5 million over five years, and $9.1 million ongoing, to improve the quality, accessibility, and effectiveness of addiction services for First Nations and Inuit. Funding provided by the NADS is supporting the development, enhancement, renewal, and validation of on-reserve addiction services, including NNADAP and NYSAP. NADS funding has provided an opportunity to support services in targeted areas to better respond to the current and emerging needs of First Nations individuals, families and communities.
More information on the renewal process, including the regional needs assessments, research papers, and NNADAP Renewal National Forum, is available on the NNADAP renewal website—http://www.nnadaprenewal.ca
>> Parallel Initiatives
Within Canada, mental health and addiction issues have gained considerable attention in recent years. Consequently, there are a number of parallel initiatives that have provided direction and support to the NNADAP Renewal Process. The ongoing implementation of will benefit from co-ordinating with, and building upon, these parallel initiatives. These include but are not limited to:
The National Anti-Drug Strategy (2007):
The NADS encompasses prevention, treatment, and enforcement. In 2007, the Government of Canada committed $30.5 million over five years, and $9.1 million ongoing, under the Treatment Action Plan of NADS to enhance addiction services for First Nations and Inuit populations. The NADS investment provided the opportunity for renewal, as well as support for ongoing implementation efforts.
First Nations and Inuit Mental Wellness Advisory Committee’s (MWAC) Strategic Action Plan (2007):
This action plan was developed by a national committee established to provide advice to Health Canada on issues relating to First Nations and Inuit mental wellness, including mental health, mental illness, suicide prevention, Indian Residential Schools, and substance use issues. MWAC’s Strategic Action Plan advocates a holistic approach, recommending that individual and community efforts towards health and wellness should take into account the inter-relationship of mental, physical and social well-being. The NNADAP Renewal Process has been informed by, and is consistent with, this approach.
The National Framework for Action to Reduce the Harms Associated with Alcohol and Other Drugs and Substances in Canada (2005):
This framework was developed following two years of Canada-wide consultations spearheaded by Health Canada, its federal partners—Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, and the Department of Justice Canada—and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. It emphasizes that a range of approaches are necessary to address substance use issues, and identifies 13 priorities for action, including alcohol, treatment, youth, First Nations and Inuit, workforce development, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, and offender-related issues.
A Systems Approach to Substance Use in Canada: Recommendations for a National Treatment Strategy (NTS) (2007):
This approach is the product of a cross-Canada working group established to improve the quality, accessibility, and options available to address harmful substance use— which is one of 13 priority areas identified by the National Framework for Action. The NTS provides general principles and key concepts for building a comprehensive continuum of care, and focuses on addressing risks and harms related to substance use including an emphasis on community-based prevention and treatment initiatives. Engagement of families and a continuum of care responding to the needs of all individuals adversely affected by substance use problems are also featured.
Toward Recovery and Well-Being: A Framework for a Mental Health Strategy for Canada (2009): This document establishes the framework for Canada’s first ever mental health strategy. The report was developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, and sets out seven goals for what a transformed mental health system should look like: one enabling all Canadians the opportunity to achieve the best possible mental health and well-being. The NNADAP Renewal Process has been informed by, and is consistent with, the principles of this approach. It may also help to inform the Mental Health Commission’s ongoing strategic planning efforts.
A systems approach depends not only on ensuring the system contains all the right “parts”, but must be guided by a set of overall principles informed by the cultural realities of First Nations people. The following principles were established based on the guidance of cultural practitioners and Elders at the NNADAP Renewal Indigenous Knowledge Forum, and based on a series of regional confirmation workshops for the framework:
• Spirit-Centred—Culture is understood as the outward expression of spirit and revitalization of spirit is central to promoting health and well-being among First Nations people. System-wide recognition that ceremony, language and traditions are important in helping to focus on strengths and reconnecting people with themselves, the past, family, community and land.
• Connected—Strong connections are the basis for holistic and integrated services and supports. Healthy family, community, and systems are built on strong and lasting relationships. These connections exist between Indigenous people, the land, and their culture, as well as relationships between various sectors and jurisdictions responsible for care delivery.
• Resiliency-focused—While trauma contributes substantially to both addictions and mental health, there is a need to recognize, support, and foster the natural strength and resilience of individuals, families, and communities. These strengths provide the foundation upon which healthy services, supports, and policies are built.
• Holistic Supports—Services and supports that are holistic consider all potential factors contributing to well-being (e.g., physical, spiritual, mental, cultural, emotional, and social) over the lifespan, and seek to achieve balance within and across these areas. This involves recognition that individual wellbeing is strongly connected to family and community wellness; and that a comprehensive, integrated continuum of care is necessary to meet the needs of First Nations people.
• Community-focused—Community is viewed as its own best resource with respect to the direction, design, and delivery of services. Adopting a community-focused lens will help to both ensure that diversity within and across communities is respected, and enhance overall system responsiveness to factors that make each community unique.
• Respectful—Respect for clients, family, and community should be demonstrated through consistent engagement, at all levels, in the planning and delivery of services. This engagement must also uphold an individual’s freedom of choice to access care when they are ready to do so, as well as seek to balance their needs and strengths with the needs of their families and communities.
• Balanced—Inclusion of both Indigenous and Western forms of evidence and approaches to all aspects of care (e.g., service delivery, administration, planning and evaluation) demonstrates respect and balance. It is also important to maintain awareness that each is informed by unique assumptions about health and well-being and unique worldviews.
• Shared Responsibility—Recognition of the individual, shared, and collective levels of responsibility to promote health and well-being among First Nations people. This begins with individuals managing their own health and extends to families, communities, service providers, and governments who all have a shared responsibility to ensure services, supports, and systems are effective and accessible, both now and for future generations.
• Culturally Competent—Cultural competence requires that service providers, both on- and offreserve, are aware of their own worldviews and attitudes towards cultural differences; and include both knowledge of, and openness to, the cultural realities and environments of the clients they serve. To achieve this, it is also necessary for indigenous knowledge to be translated into current realities to meaningfully inform and guide direction and delivery of health services and supports on an ongoing basis.
• Culturally Safe—Cultural safety extends beyond cultural awareness and sensitivity within services and includes reflecting upon cultural, historical, and structural differences and power relationships within the care that is provided. It involves a process of ongoing self-reflection and organizational growth for service providers and the system as a whole to respond effectively to First Nations people.
As of 2011, there are 630 First Nations communities in Canada. These communities vary considerably and range from larger reserves located close to major urban centres, to very small and remote reserves. Some of these communities are self-governing and exercise control over their health programs; are economically well off; enjoy general good health and high levels of participation in education and community life; and are continuing to pass on their cultural knowledge, language, and traditions to the next generation. However, many communities face major challenges, such as high unemployment, poverty, low levels of education, poor housing, and considerable distances from health and social services.
Substance use issues, including heavy drinking, drug use, and related harms (e.g., violence, injuries, and family disruptions) are consistently identified as priority health concerns by First Nations. Results from the 2008–10 First Nations Regional Longitudinal Health Survey indicated that respondents believed that alcohol and drug use and abuse was the number one challenge to community wellness faced by on-reserve communities (82.6% of respondents), followed by housing (70.7%) and employment (65.9%).4
For some First Nations, the use and abuse of substances offers a means of coping with, and providing a temporary escape from, difficult life circumstances and ongoing stressors. Many of these challenges are rooted in the history of colonization which has included: criminalization of culture and language; rapid cultural change; creation of the reserve system; the change from an active to a sedentary lifestyle; systemic racism; and forced assimilation through residential schools and child-welfare policies. These experiences have affected the health and well-being of communities, and have contributed to lower social and economic status, poorer nutrition, violence, crowded living conditions, and high rates of substance use issues. Regardless of their social, economic and/or geographic status, these issues and their historical contexts must be understood as ones faced by First Nations communities.
Several generations of First Nations children were sent to residential schools. Many of the approximately 80,000 former students alive today are coping with disconnection from traditional languages, practices, and cultural teachings. Others suffer from the after-effects of trauma stemming from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse endured as children in residential schools or through the child welfare system that also removed First Nations children from their families and communities. Because they were removed from daily contact with their parents/family, community, and traditional lands at a young age; many lack a connection to a cultural identity and the parenting/family skills that would have allowed them to form healthy attachments with their own children.
Taking into account the legacy of colonization, a process of decolonization has emerged as a priority for First Nations communities and leadership. Decolonization refers to a process where First Nations people reclaim their traditional culture, redefine themselves as a people, and reassert their distinct identity. It has involved grieving and healing over the losses suffered through colonization; the renewal of cultural practices and improved access to mental wellness resources; and First Nations leaders and communities calling for healing, family restoration, and strengthened communities of care. There have also been calls for a parallel process of raising a consciousness within Canadian society so that stigma and discrimination against First Nations people can be eliminated, both on the personal and the structural levels of society. These efforts to provide effective healing programming and to reclaim cultural identity are recognized as keys to revitalizing communities and reducing the extent of alcohol and substance abuse.
Many First Nations communities aspire to achieve wellness, which is a holistic view of health that promotes balance between the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of life. This view of health, sometimes referred to as mental wellness, includes a secure sense of self, personal dignity, cultural identity, and a feeling of being connected. Many First Nations people have reported little success with, and may in fact avoid, services that do not value their way of knowing, particularly with respect to health and wellness.
Likewise, there is a common view that culture is vital for healing, although how culture is defined and practiced varies across communities. Culture is intimately connected to community wellness and is often described as a way of being, knowing, perceiving, behaving, and living in the world. It is recognized as being dynamic because the beliefs, values, customs, and traditions that are passed on between generations continue to be relevant to current realities. Expression of culture may take on many different forms including: language; methods of hunting, fishing and gathering foods; arts and crafts; ways of relating to each other; knowledge that informs family, community, and governance structures; the gathering and use of traditional medicines; traditional diets; as well as spiritual journeying, drumming, dancing, singing, and healing ceremonies. Within these various expressions of culture, some First Nations people see culture as distinct from spirituality. However, for others, traditional Creation Stories of First Nations people in Canada set out the primary foundation for defining culture with an understanding that spirit is the central and primary energy, cause, and motivator of all life. It follows then that the use of cultural practices to address substance use issues, and the role of spirituality within these practices, must be determined by individuals, families, and communities themselves.
Who is Affected?
>> Infants and Children
Through the regional needs assessments, many First Nations communities expressed significant concern over how many First Nations children are exposed to alcohol and drugs at an early age. A Quebec-based survey on substance use patterns among First Nations revealed that one-third of the people surveyed who had used inhalants started using them at the age of 10 or younger and 58% began using them when they were aged 11 to 15. Alcohol and marijuana were also used at an early age compared with amphetamines, cocaine, heroin, and prescription medications. The first use generally occurred (about 60%) in the 11 to 15 age group and slightly more than 20% said they first used alcohol at the age of 10 or younger.5 In addition, the regional needs assessments indicated that, while data is limited, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) continues to be a concern in some First Nations communities.
The role of early childhood development in future health is well known.6 During the early years of life, children develop important attitudes and resiliency skills. Thus, it makes sense to provide children with the tools and support they will need to make healthy lifestyle choices. There is a range of ways to use prevention and health promotion to help reduce the chance that children will develop a future substance use or mental health issue. The focus will be on lowering risk factors (e.g., problems at school, abuse, family neglect, psychological disorders, low degree of bonding with parents, and lack of connection with traditional culture and life ways), while promoting protective factors (e.g., pride in cultural identity, speaking a traditional language, school success, literacy skills, access to high school, recreational activities, and ties to a supportive adult or Elder). By dealing with these issues early in childhood, the risk of future problems will be lowered.7
>> Youth and Adolescents
A high level of concern exists when it comes to youth. Aboriginal youth are the fastest growing population in Canada, with a projected annual birth rate growth that is nearly three times higher than non-Aboriginal Canadians. In 2006, the average age of Canada’s Aboriginal population was 27 years, compared with 40 years for non-Aboriginal people, a gap of 13 years.8 Between 2002–03, more than one in four (27.2%) First Nation youth reported sad, blue, or depressed feelings for two weeks in a row. This same study revealed that 21% of First Nations youths had thoughts of suicide, while 9.6% have attempted suicide.9 According to the 2008–10 First Nations Regional Longitudinal Health Survey (RHS), 51.1% of First Nation youth (12–17) reported heavy drinking (five or more drinks on an occasion) at least once per month in the past 12 months, and 10.4 % of youth engaged in heavy drinking at a rate of at least once per week in this past 12 months.10 Previous surveys have revealed that First Nations are more likely to both use all types of illegal drugs and to start using substances at a much younger age than non-Aboriginal Canadians. The highest risk group for both drinking and drug use among Aboriginal people is young males aged 18–29.11
There is a significant body of research that demonstrates the effectiveness of prevention, outreach, early identification and intervention services targeted at youth and adolescence as a cost-effective means for reducing substance use issues later on.12 These approaches focus on lowering risk factors, while promoting protective factors. Because many services—especially mental health and addictions services—are not usually designed for youth, mental health and addiction health workers are seldom trained to specifically work with this population. In fact, youth are among the least-served segment of the population and rarely seek out formal mental health and addictions services that exist in their communities.
Among the First Nations adult population, alcohol is still the most common substance of abuse. Although abstinence from alcohol is common among First Nations, so is heavy drinking. The RHS 2002/2003 showed that almost three times as many First Nations adults reported heavy drinking on a weekly basis (16%) than did the general population (6.2%).13, 14 The survey also found that 7.3% of the adults surveyed said they use illegal drugs, more than double the rate among mainstream Canadian adults. In addition, alcohol was a noted as a factor in 80% of suicide attempts and 60% of violent events.15 While alcohol abuse among First Nations has been a concern for a long time, some communities are reporting increasing use of illegal and prescription drugs. Although the extent of prescription drug abuse is not well known, First Nations in some provinces have described it as a high priority issue, while others have said it is an emerging concern.
>> Older Adults/Seniors
Older adults/seniors make up the smallest group of First Nations people, and are often one of the most under-served groups given that many services target the needs of younger adults. Although research data is very limited for this population, some regions have stated that more attention is required on this population, particularly with respect to alcohol and prescription drug abuse. This population may have a unique set of risk factors for developing a substance use issue. For instance, older adults/seniors are significantly more likely to have direct experience with residential schools (as opposed to intergenerational) and to have lost a child due to removals through the respective child welfare system. The regional needs assessments revealed that many older adults still find talking about their residential school experience difficult. They also indicated that they did not easily recognize prescription drug abuse or gambling as problems.
When children grow up in an environment where their cultural identity is oppressed and substances are abused frequently, they may come to see alcohol and other substance abuse as “normal” and therefore become more likely to repeat those behaviours in adulthood. A family environment characterized by intergenerational trauma, grief and loss will also be characterized by an erosion of cultural values visible through inadequate child rearing, disengagement from parental/family responsibilities, violence, abuse, and the problematic use of substances are all risk factors that contribute to alcohol and drug abuse. Parenting programs and other supports for families could help to address this need with a more holistic approach that would include child and parent well-being through the provision of family healing programs and traditional parenting programs for families and extended family members.
Families have a responsibility to provide children with an environment where they feel loved, nurtured, safe, and connected to their spirit, community, and culture. First Nations definition of family goes beyond the nuclear family and recognizes that children have a wide range of caregivers apart from parents (including older siblings, extended family, and clan family). For First Nations people, identity comes from family and, by extension, community and traditional land and clan systems. These supports and connections have the capacity to promote a secure sense of self pride in culture and fulfillment of cultural identity, and play a significant role in preventing or delaying the onset of substance use issues and mental health disorders.
Many First Nations women’s health issues are adversely affected by gender-based social status and roles imposed through colonization. First Nations women face high rates of family violence, single parenting, sexual harassment, inequality, sexual exploitation and poverty. The impacts of these issues contribute to their mental health and substance use issues and have a major impact on the lives of their children, families and communities.16 Women also face unique barriers to accessing services and may be deterred from doing so due to stigma, discrimination, a fear of losing their children, or a lack of women-centred programs. Lack of childcare, housing, income support, and transportation are some of the more common barriers for women that need to inform service delivery and planning. In the past, many services were aimed mostly at the needs and realities of men. It is important that services and supports acknowledge the role of sex and gender, including the unique experiences of women with substance use and mental health issues, in service design and delivery. There is now a movement toward offering services that are women-specific, in consideration of past/current trauma and the barriers that many women seeking services face; or at the very least, services that are adapted to reflect the needs and realities of women.
While there is a need for women-centred services, it remains very important to continue to have programs that are designed and developed to address the needs of men of all ages. Men are also dealing with the impacts of poverty, violence, sexual abuse, and loss of culture and language, and require programming that supports them in addressing these underlying issues as part of their recovery. The stigma around various types of physical and sexual abuse can be just as significant for men as for women, making gender-specific programming critical for many individuals. As well, traditional cultural teachings may also play an important role in restoring gender defined strengths and purpose in family and community.
>> Mental Health
Colonization and residential schools have contributed to First Nations experiencing mental health and substance use issues at much higher rates than the general population in Canada. In 2002–2003, 30% of First Nations people who were surveyed said they had felt sad, blue, or depressed for two or more weeks in the past year.17 Recent data also suggests that First Nations people are two times more likely to seek help for a mental health issue than other Canadians.18 This number is likely to rise if more services become available in rural and remote communities. In 2005–2006, antidepressants were the number one type of therapeutic drug issued under Non-Insured Health Benefits Program (NIHB), at a cost of $17.5 million, while anti-anxiety medications ranked sixth, for a total of $5.5 million.19 NIHB data also show that depression and anxiety are two of the more common mental health issues faced by First Nations.
The links between substance use and mental health issues are complex. It is generally known that someone with a mental health issue is more likely to use substances to self-medicate, just as a person with a substance use issue is more likely to have or develop a mental health issue. Likewise, it is generally recognized that people with co-occurring mental health conditions have poorer treatment outcomes; are at a higher risk for harm; and have the most unmet needs.
>> People with Unique Needs
Although anyone may be affected by substance use issues, the risk and course of these issues vary for different people. Services and supports must adapt or be targeted toward unique population needs to maximize their appropriateness and effectiveness. As well, some persons may also face additional risks and barriers. Examples of populations with unique service needs include, but are not limited to:
• two-spirited, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people;
• people with disabilities;
• people with mental health issues;
• individuals living with HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis C;
• persons with cognitive impairments or acquired brain injuries;
• youth and adults who are FASD affected;
• marginalized individuals, such as those who are homeless; and
• persons in conflict with the law.
It is recognized that for these populations they may not be able to feel fully connected or engaged in community life. Due to this disconnect, they may not be the focus of prevention efforts, or have access to treatment services. In addition, they may experience distinct barriers that impact on their ability to access services; services may not be responsive to their unique needs; and their community may not be fully accepting or welcoming in supporting their recovery. In some cases, people belonging to these populations need to migrate to urban centres to obtain proper services or for the support and safety that may be lacking within their home community. A systems-wide goal to address the needs of all populations is required to remove barriers, combat stigma, and ensure proper services and full community participation.
>> Tobacco Abuse
Tobacco-related illnesses and diseases are urgent issues in First Nations communities where smoking rates are more than double those for the rest of Canada. According to the 2008–10 First Nations Longitudinal Health Survey, 43% of First Nations adults are daily smokers, with an additional 13.7% self-identifying as occasional smokers. 20 In comparison, 17.1% of the larger Canadian population are daily smokers.21 As well, over half of daily smokers are between the ages of 18–29,22 and the majority of on-reserve First Nations people who smoke started between the ages of 13 and 16.23
Currently, stop smoking programs (tobacco cessation) within First Nations communities receive limited funding from various federal programs. Some funding support from provinces is also offered through community partnerships with provincial agencies. The focus of available community efforts have been on prevention, cessation, and education. Some communities have also chosen to promote smoke-free environments and have banned smoking in public spaces (e.g., health and social services offices, band offices and sometimes treatment centres). In addition, some treatment centres provide support for clients with tobacco cessation in addition to overcoming other chemical addictions, although there is a common view within many other treatment centres that it is too much to expect from clients for them to abstain from everything all at once.
>> Problem Gambling and Other Addictive Behaviours A process addiction can be defined as a process or activity that has become compulsive or destructive to a person’s life. Process addictions differ from substance addictions because they are not a physical addiction in the way that alcohol or other substances can be. In contrast, process addictions involve a psychological addiction, which can still be very harmful and may require counselling, treatment, or other supports. There are a wide range of process addictions. The most common process addictions are sex addiction, compulsive gambling, internet addiction, shopping addiction, and compulsive eating.
For many Aboriginal communities, addictions to gambling are a growing concern across all age groups. Unfortunately, older adults seem to be more likely to get involved in problem gambling, often finding refuge from being lonely and isolated. During community focus groups, some people said that family members are often aware of problem gambling but feel helpless. Gambling can be seen as a way to fill a social void for many people because it provides a social outlet. As a result, many people are not keen to view gambling as a form of addiction. Gambling addictions are not usually part of current NNADAP programming. However, some treatment centres have chosen to provide specific programming for gambling addictions. Programming may include awareness, counselling, or support groups. Often these services are offered as an extra service rather than as part of the core program.
Overview of the Systems Approach
>>Summary of the Systems Approach
This systems approach to addressing care is inclusive of the full range of services, supports, and partners who have a role in addressing substance use issues among First Nations people. This includes First Nations community-based services and supports (such as NNADAP, community cultural supports, and social support networks) but also other related partners and jurisdictions (e.g., housing, education, employment, and federal correctional services). It is recognized that no single sector or jurisdiction can support individuals and their families alone. A systems approach provides a framework through which all services, supports, and partners can enhance the overall coordination of responses to the full array of risks and harms associated with substance use among First Nations.
The elements of care described in Honouring Our Strengths reflect a continuum of care approach that considers a range of services, supports, and partners who have a role in addressing substance use issues among First Nations. This approach aims to support a strengthened, systems-wide response for First Nations communities and people who are at risk of, or directly affected by substance use issues throughout the lifespan. This approach focuses on:
• Matching people affected by substance use issues to the kinds of services and supports they need at any point in their care journeys; and
• Co-ordination among partners and sectors to provide effective, client-centred and culturally safe services and supports.
The six elements of a continuum of care are intended to respond to the needs of individuals, families, and communities with a range of substance use issues. The elements are also designed to meet the needs of specific population groups (e.g., women, youth, and people with co-occurring mental health issues). The elements of care are as follows: Community Development, Universal Prevention, and Health Promotion; Early Identification, Brief Intervention, and Aftercare; Secondary Risk Reduction; Active Treatment; Specialized Treatment; and Care Facilitation. Six key supports to the continuum of care have also been identified in the framework: workforce development; governance and coordination of and within the system; addressing mental health needs; performance measurement and research; pharmacological approaches; and accreditation. The elements and key supports outlined in this model are described in more detail in the sections that follow. Each of the sections is organized into four parts:
1. Description: providing a summary and rationale for the section, including a description of the target population, key components, and/or key partners. This outlines what services and supports would ideally look like.
2. Key Components: providing further definition of the key services and supports specific to each element.
3. Current Status: providing an overview of current services and supports available with an emphasis on strengths and challenges.
4. Renewal Opportunities: identifying opportunities to strengthen the current system in line with the description and key components while supporting identified strengths and targeting challenges within the current system.