Facility aims to be beacon for Inuit seeking freedom from &#39a;lcohol; or drugs

Isuarsivik treatment centre back in business


KUUJJUAQ – The Isuarsivik treatment centre in Kuujjuaq is back in operation, having recently completed its first six-week residential treatment program for a group of five male clients from several Nunavik communities.

When the men came to the program, they were "scared, unsure, scattered and troubled," says executive director Annie Gordon.

But when they finished, she says they were more grounded and sure of themselves.

"Their self-esteem was higher and they have skills to deal with relapse," she said.

Gordon hopes that Isuarsivik will become a beacon for Inuit who want to free themselves from alcohol or drug abuse.

However, Nunavimmiut face greater challenges than southerners, Gordon says, because 80 per cent of adults in the region have problems with addictions or trauma, whereas the opposite is true in southern Quebec.

That's why Isuarsivik also plans to work with clients on issues to related to emotional trauma.

Like the Mamisarvik treatment program in Ottawa, Isuarsivik has structured program, involving lots of group therapy sessions, one-on-one counselling, good food as well as elder's visits, exercise and on-the-land activities.

Inuktitut is the language of treatment and Inuit culture is integrated into all aspects of the program.

"Part of the program is to get back what we had," Gordon said. "And be proud to be an Inuk."

The centre's staff has developed 13 Inuit principles to guide clients through recovery: "Love, caring and sharing are the foundation of Inuit values. I will learn to accept that others love and care for me. I will share that love and caring for my family and community," reads principle 11.

The Nechi Institute, an aboriginal centre in British Columbia, is training the centre's staff, which includes Roda Grey, a registered nurse, and long-time counsellor Eva Lepage.

All are close to obtaining their certification as drug and alcohol counsellors.

Isuarsivik then plans to seek re-certification as a full-fledged treatment centre, which will allow the centre to once again receive clients from Nunavut.

In 2005, the centre fired its former executive director, shut down and embarked on a total restructuring.

During this period, Nunavimmiut who wanted addictions treatment had to find other treatment programs in Ottawa or Goose Bay.

This wasn't the first time Isuarsivik had crashed to a halt: in 2000, Isuarsivik closed temporarily due to a lack of funds and a need to overhaul its staff and operations.

Dave Forrest, chairman of Isuarsivik's board, says the centre now looks to the future with optimism: for the first time in its history, the centre's budget is $1.3 million, thanks to a windfall grant of $600,000 from Quebec.

However, Isuarsivik is looking for money to build a larger, more modern facility for a regional treatment centre in Kuujjuaq.

It's still located in one of the oldest buildings in Kuujjuaq, which used to house the American armed forces during the 1950s, and maintaining the present aging facility is very expensive, with heating alone running at about $50,000 a year.

The board has applied to Nunavik's "Safer Communities" program for financial help to build a new $8 million, 22-bed treatment centre and housing for six staff.

Their application will be given more strength by the findings of the Qanuippitaa health survey, released on Dec. 12 in Kuujjuaq.

It found heavy drinking is widespread in Nunavik, with nearly one in four drinkers reported having five or more drinks on one occasion every week.

Use of drugs, including marijuana and cocaine, is also three to four times higher in the region than in the rest of Canada.

Marijuana is by far the most commonly used drug in Nunavik. Although it is used by eight or nine men in 10, aged 15 to 24, its use is also widespread among women as well as men and women under 45.

Isuarsivik plans to offer treatment cycles for groups of either nine men or women in 2008.

For more information, call the centre at 1-866-964-9994.

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