Community drug strategy and mental wellness systems being built on Six Nations

What does mental wellness and having a community drug strategy mean to you? More importantly, what is a community drug strategy and how does it work alongside mental wellness?

Six Nations Integrated Drug Strategy Co-ordinator Eve Kahama and Mental Wellness System Co-ordinator Natasha Samounty put together an information booth at the White Pines Wellness Centre on August 24 to inform community members about the drug strategy, its mission, vision, and provide input on what they would like to see come out of the drug strategy.

Community members had the opportunity to learn that mental wellness looks and means something different to everyone. Kahama said she was hired right before the pandemic began shutting down community events, which made implementing a community-driven and led drug strategy difficult.

“Being hired during COVID-19, you’re not out in the community. This is supposed to be a community-led and driven strategy,” said Kahama. “So, what we’re doing today is letting community members know, ‘Here we are, we have a community drug strategy, we would love your input and would also love to increase capacity on everybody having access to naloxone.’ We also want to start a conversation on substance abuse. Start that conversation, decrease the stigma, get those conversations going about what substance abuse is and what it’s not.”

A community drug strategy is a cross-sector collaboration of agencies that work to decrease the harms caused by substance abuse.

“Specifically for Six Nations it’s raising awareness, reducing stigma and advocating for the policies and programs that respect Haudenosaunee culture and reflect the values of the Six Nations community and its membership,” said Kahama. “Having a drug strategy rooted in tradition and Haudenosaunee culture is very important. There are a lot of different municipal drug strategies out there, but they don’t often address the issues of Indigenous people or understand the impact of residential school or intergenerational trauma.

“What we’re trying to do is address substance abuse issues. And there are several organizations involved. Right now we work with Six Nations Health Services, Six Nations Police, paramedics, Ogwadeni:deo, Ganhohkwasra, and others. We meet once a month to try and increase collaboration and communication within. If one of the organizations has a service that would need help or could be utilized, then we could go and help within that.”

Kahama said their vision is to be a safe and supportive community that promotes a healthy and resilient approach to substance abuse.

“We’re focusing on a harm reduction framework and understanding that people have different frameworks that work better for them than others. For some there’s abstinence. Abstinence-only frameworks can work for some people, but they might not be best for everybody. That’s why we have that harm reduction framework. So we can go from abstinence-only to maybe only using occasionally. The goal is to keep people alive until they’re ready to seek help,” she said.

Samounty is the mental health systems co-ordinator and she said her work on mental wellness works well with a community drug strategy.

“The mental wellness system, which encompasses mental health and addictions, looks at the mental wellness system as a whole. I’m looking at all the services that fall under mental health or addictions, both in and outside the community. My goal is to help the system figure out where our strengths and weaknesses are. Going into the mental wellness system can be really hard to navigate, especially if you are in need or in crisis,” said Samounty. “There are so many different services out there.

“I’m trying to help the system become more seamless so when people come they can find exactly what they need. If you go to one service and they don’t have what you need, they can redirect you so that you’re not discouraged from finding help.”

Kahama and Samounty were handing out free naloxone kits to those who visited the booth. Naloxone is a drug used to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses from drugs like Fentanyl and Heroin and kits are available for free at Six Nations Mental Health and Addictions at 1769 Chiefswood Road. Kits are also available at the Six Nations Crisis Hub at 1546 Chiefswood Road.

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