Are we doing enough for people with substance abuse issues?

by Gemma Cain

pillsMississippi Mills might be your quintessential, grassroots community from the outset – and many residents will say that it certainly is. Its picturesque surroundings and a great arts and culture scene make it one of the region’s most beloved draws, especially given its close proximity to Ottawa’s downtown core. But like many towns, Mississippi Mills has been battling a growing problem across Canada, and one which isn’t showing signs of dissipating anytime soon. Substance abuse continues to be an issue which is not only widely ignored, but in some ways considered a taboo subject.

In February of this year, the Ontario Provincial Police seized a substantial stash of cocaine, oxycodone tablets, methamphetamine tablets, hashish and marijuana at a home on Turners Road along with firearms. Four people were charged for possession and trafficking. The incident shook the otherwise quiet community, although certainly drug raids are not a surprising phenomenon in this day and age. According to Health Canada, while some trends in substance abuse have decreased, others are once again on the rise. And while the legalization of marijuana for medicinal use has begun to regulate the amount of cannabis which is being consumed, other drugs like meth – easy to produce, easy to distribute, and cheap to sell – are continuing to be a problem throughout the North America and Europe.

Proactive Measures

After working closely with communities for a number of years, law enforcement on national, provincial, and local levels have helped to improve drug prevention and crack down on the dealers. But understandably, the law enforcement aspect is not enough to effectively combat what is considered a social threat. The Mississippi Mills Municipal Drug Strategy Committee (MDS) focuses on the community outreach aspect while collaborating closely with law enforcement. Comprised of dedicated volunteers and residents of Mississippi Mills, the organization endeavours to “encourage communication and collaboration across the four pillars of prevention, enforcement, harm reduction, and treatment, to meet the needs of Mississippi Mills.” The MDS also works closely with families and youth in order to address the demographic of drug and alcohol users by its work with Parents Lifelines of Eastern Ontario (PLEO) which is for families with youngsters struggling with mental health. Having these resources is essential, whether it means having access to online information about rehabilitation programs, a support community, or networking with people right at home. When this information is accessible and up to date, it means that people will have a place to turn to in times of need.

It’s a progressive measure by the community, because it recognizes that drug and alcohol abuse is not a subject to be swept under the carpet, that people who have become involved in the abuse are not necessarily involved with crime, and that part of the solution is reaching out to people and giving them what they need. But is it enough? While critics can philosophize on the concept of whether or not any social structure will solve life’s solutions, that doesn’t mean it is irrelevant when considering areas which require improvement. There are still marginalized communities which do not have the access they require to these resources, like the First Nations. While they do benefit from some excellent organizations which strive to help the community by conscientiously addressing the problems they face, substance abuse continues to cause harm to First Nations and Metis, partly because of the unstable educational and economical infrastructure of their community, but also because they do not receive the healthcare they need. Many people are inclined to question the accountability of helping the community – perhaps too harshly – but as a community, we should be asking whether or not we are doing enough to help people in vulnerable communities fight substance abuse. And this rule doesn’t just apply to First Nations either, although it must be dealt with specifically and separately in this case. It applies to everyone.

It isn’t just about helping our communities to heal, or even taking responsibility for the current problems, although that comprises a portion of it. It’s about laying down a foundation which means we can give our children a safe, compassionate, and healthy community in which they and their own children and grandchildren etc. can thrive. So while we may feel inclined to become complacent about the issue of alcohol and substance abuse, it should never be far from our hearts and minds when thinking about the future.