Nunavik addiction treatment centre eyes family approach

“We look at it as an investment in Nunavik’s future”


Isuarsivik board members Dave Forrest and Mary Aitchison share plans for an expanded treatment centre with KRG councillors in Kuujjuaq Feb. 22. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)

Isuarsivik board members Dave Forrest and Mary Aitchison share plans for an expanded treatment centre with KRG councillors in Kuujjuaq Feb. 22. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)

KUUJJUAQ—The strongest words Mary Aitchison has heard are “I need help,” spoken by fellow Nunavimmiut struggling with an alcohol or drug addiction.

Through her role on the Isuarsivik treatment centre’s board of directors, Aitchison has seen dozens of Nunavimmiut struggle to make the decision to enter rehabilitation.

So more can benefit from Isuarsivik’s services, the organization wants to rebuild a larger centre in Kuujjuaq with an expanded mandate focused on family support.

Isuarsivik has outgrown the centre’s 70-year-old building, which can only take in nine clients per six-week treatment cycle, Aitchison told Kativik Regional Government councillors Feb. 22,

“The building feels small and old now,” Aitchison said.

“[Addiction] can affect our lives so much, from being taken to jail or having our children taken away. But we have to work together for this to continue.”

Aitchison and fellow board member Dave Forrest are doing the rounds this month, presenting a vision of a bigger and better Isuarsivik to community and regional organizations.

The board’s plans for a new centre in Kuujjuaq’s Nuvuuk Bay neighbourhood date back a few years now, but the new centre’s mandate has recently come into sharper focus.

The new centre plans to make space for 20 clients per session, with space for four family units to accommodate children and spouses.

The project also hopes to offer emergency admission to pregnant women who seek treatment.

The organization is researching a “family approach” to recovery by looking at best practices from around the work and in Indigenous communities.

“We’re calling ourselves a recovery centre—not a treatment centre,” said Forrest, chair of Isuarsivik’s board.

“It’s all about recovering a sense of self and pride that Inuit had before Qallunaat came.”

The current centre operates with funding from both the regional health department and Ungaluk crime prevention fund.

The estimated cost of the new building, including a daycare centre and staff housing, is between $17 million and $20 million, money that’s yet to be secured.

But Forrest offers a comparison: he said the health and justice-related costs of treating the impacts of alcohol abuse in the region are estimated at about $72 million a year.

“We look at it as an investment in Nunavik’s future,” he said. “It will help every community, every family, every organization.”

KRG’s regional councillor for Kangiqsujuaq, Mary Pilurtuut, has been through the Isuarsivik program and she welcomes the move to make treatment services more widely available to Nunavimmiut.

“It changed my life,” she said. “There are people who would like to go but cannot.”

One of the hardest decisions in seeking treatment was having to leave her children at home, she said.

“So when I hear you’re working on a family-oriented treatment centre, this is what I want to hear,” Pilurtuut told Forrest and Aitchison.

“We have trouble leaving to return to something that hasn’t changed. I wish I would have had my husband and children with me.”

Isuarsivik’s directors are now working to get the centre certified through Quebec’s health department as well as through Accreditation Canada.

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