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We have a drug epidemic in Thunder Bay
…in Canada…in many communities in this country

Drug epidemic in Thunder Bay  Lake Superior News

THUNDER BAY, ONTARIO -  April 22, 2018  (LSN)  I was asked by Lake Superior News to write a story about my personal thoughts of the drug epidemic in Thunder Bay.  I put about 35 hours of research and typing into this article. Also, I have attached a picture...I was smudging a home belonging to a friend suffering from addiction issues. I am requesting this article be published prior to Wednesday April 25/18.  On this day there is a Town Hall Meeting with Councillor Frank Pullia in regards to Thunder bay social issues and Community safety.
Natalie Stobert

For the past six years, I spend a considerable amount of time on the streets and in other places with those suffering from alcohol and substance abuse. Some are homeless, some engage in illegal activities that provide the drugs that their raging bodies scream for. Some have become sex trade workers.   I have listened to the horrors of their inner pain and struggles.  I have held many with tears and I have smudged with many. 

I listen to stories about the gangs from Ottawa and Toronto—how these gangs operate on “crack for credit” This operation of “lending” crack is contributing to the drug epidemic in Thunder Bay.  In addition, it is a known fact that crack cocaine is being laced with fentanyl and the gangs hunt for the vulnerable ones—ones that may be homeless, ones that live in specific low income areas. These gangs “lend” crack in exchange for the use of the borrower’s home which in turn, is used for the gang’s drug base. This puts the entire family including children and elderly at risk and in fear for their safety. The gangs threated the “weed dealers” – either they quit selling marijuana or they must sell the gang’s marijuana.  Thus, selling the gang’s weed now includes selling the gang’s crack. Young people looking to buy marijuana from the dealers are convinced to try crack on credit. The gangs are dangerous and relentless! They turn young female girls into sex trade workers, shaving half their hair off if they do not provide a sufficient amount of money at night’s end. They turn young boys into “mules”, meaning when “runners” bring shipments of drugs to our city, the young boys deliver the drugs to the local dealers. 

In addition to gang related activities and drugs, there are “cooking houses” set up around the city. At times, the drugs are “dirty” meaning they may be laced with horse tranquilizers, fentanyl, and bath salts.  The drug user may know the drug is laced; however, the dependency is driving him or her to use regardless of personal safety. In one evening, I have personally witnessed about 20 young people between the ages of 16-25 years old come and go from a local cooking house.

I am not writing this article to provide statistics on drug use and overdoses in our city.  I am speaking out for those substance abusers who have trusted me and shared their stories with me. I have heard what they seek in terms of treatment and to no avail.  Thunder Bay has a drug epidemic and this city needs to respond to this widespread and complex issue in proactive measures to combat substance abuse issues. This city requires a supervised medical detox with a higher number of beds for the purpose of detoxifying from crystal meth, crack cocaine, and fentanyl.  The length of stay for the substance abuser should be in relation to his or her withdrawal symptoms and concurrent disorders even if this means a stay of 4 weeks or longer. 

smudging a home belonging to a friend suffering from addiction issues. Lake Superior News
smudging at home belonging to a friend suffering from addiction issues.

Post-acute withdrawal symptoms refer to the emotional and psychological withdrawal symptoms and can last up to two years. Combine PAWS with homelessness, mental health issues, and other past trauma issues and we have a situation that is setting up the substance abuser to fail. Long term inpatient treatment of a minimum stay of six monthes is vital to assist substance abusers with complex problems and behaviours that contribute to drug addiction.  Upon completion of inpatient treatment, long term residential aftercare (2 years), with a high number of beds available, is crucial in the continuum of treatment.  The recovering abuser requires time to process and heal from the problematic triggers brought on from mental health issues and trauma and to adjust to a drug-free lifestyle in a safe and stable environment.  It is sad to see someone complete inpatient treatment and leave treatment as a homeless person with no supportive measures.  I have seen many people complete inpatient treatment only to relapse. I knew one person who hung himself hours after finishing treatment. Once again we have set up the substance abuser to fail.

For our First Nations population that suffers from substance abuse, both long-term inpatient treatment and residential aftercare are desirable within their own cultural framework of customs and traditions.  We need to offer their culture back to our First Nations substance abusers.  Their identity and healing can take place with their own cultural walk on the Red Road.  Fort William First Nations would be an ideal location.

Thus…It starts with one life...

*** dedicated to my lil brother, Marno, who passed over from an overdose on March 24, 2018


Drug Facts:  Canada’s Free Source for Drugs & Addictions Information

Crack Cocaine, Drug Withdrawal

What is Fentanyl?  10 Things to Know About the Potentially Deadly Drug

First…end the stigma and get educated.  The Government of Canada defines stigma as “negative attitudes and beliefs about a group of people due to their circumstances in life. Stigma involves discrimination and prejudice.”  Furthermore, the government indicates that stigma is also negative judging, labeling, isolating, and stereotyping.  By social shaming those with addiction issues, we have further knocked their spirits downward in the descending pit that they are currently living within.  The derogatory comments made in social media, the insults spewed verbally, and the aggressive and malicious behaviours displayed towards those with addiction issues needs to end.

In order to stop shaming drug users, to end the stigma--one needs to be educated on addiction.  Many people believe that drug addiction is a choice the drug user makes and “can stop if he or she really wanted to”. If one believes in the choice model of addiction, the stigma will remain and the personal judgements and stereotyping will persist towards those suffering from substance abuse. Substance abusers, especially those addicted to crack cocaine and crystal meth (methamphetamine), have lost their “choice” not to use because they suffer from a physical and psychological medical condition known as substance dependency.

Crystal meth and crack cocaine are stimulants and both drugs are known to trigger quick dependency, first by the powerful euphoric high the drug user experiences then by the physical dependency followed by brain functions altering and becoming dependent. Crystal meth is three times more powerful as cocaine and is among the most difficult drug to permanently quit.

Crystal meth and crack cocaine may be laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid narcotic analgesic, a powerful and dangerous drug.  Because of the highly addictive potential, drug dealers covertly add fentanyl to increase the user’s dependency.  When fentanyl isn’t properly mixed, one small dose can lead to death from overdose!

Substance abusers do not set out to become addicted to drugs especially to crystal meth and crack cocaine. Once they do become dependent on these drugs, their lives become a vicious circle of chasing their high..  For most, the state of euphoria or at the very least, a mentally “numbing out” effect is the desired goal of a substance abuser.  Childhood trauma including sexual and physical abuse, abandonment issues from child welfare and adoption, the residential school system and the 60’s Scoop, PTSD, domestic violence, mental health issues, and homelessness are only a few examples that contribute to one wanting to self-medicate to “numb out”. 

Thunder Bay has superb short term services for those struggling with addiction issues. These service providers perform an outstanding job.  The employees I have encountered at these facilities are dedicated, empathetic, and caring towards those afflicted with alcohol and substance abuse. The Balmoral Detox Centre and Sister Margaret Smith Center is under the umbrella of the St. Joseph’s Care Group.  The detox center offers a 14-bed withdrawal management unit with an additional 7 beds for immediate addiction withdrawal: 5 beds for males and 2 beds for females. Sister Margaret Smith Center offers a 28-day residential treatment program in addition to other services provided.  The Adult Residential Treatment Centre (ARTC) located on Fort Willian First Nation offers a three week residential treatment program.  This program includes regular traditional healing practices. There are two halfway houses situated in Thunder Bay: Crossroads Centre Inc. is a partner agency of Thunder Bay Integrated Addiction Services.  This centre provides services to both male and female cliental and residents can stay for up to 2 years providing they stay alcohol and drug free and adhere to the regulations.  Three C’s Reintroduction Centre operates a 12-bed, male only, unit with an average length of stay of six monthes.



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