By Sarah Sibley
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Politicians in the Northwest Territories town of Hay River say they’ll take fresh action over concern about drugs in the community and the devastating impact on residents’ lives.
Keith Dohey, deputy mayor of the southern N.W.T. town of 3,500 people, said on Monday things are getting worse.
“I’ve had a lot of residents reach out to me, especially lately, increasingly concerned about the growing drug problem in the community,” Dohey told fellow town councillors.
“We’re in the midst of a crisis and in the past year alone, personally, I know six people that have lost their lives due to drugs in one way or another.
“We’ve got people in the community that are profiting from death and they are dealing in the destruction of lives, and families, and our community. A lot of people are really reeling from it and don’t know where to turn.”
Hay River recently lost two residents through drug-related incidents, Mayor Kandis Jameson said, and conversations must take place about how more deaths can be avoided.
“Do I think we’re in crisis? No, I don’t _ but nor do we want to be,” she said. “There is an issue, so how do we deal with it? How do we get this out of our community, and how do we get people help?
“It’s multi-faceted and that’s why all the players have to be at the table.”
The Northwest Territories’ health authority in February issued an advisory reporting two suspected overdose deaths in an unidentified southern N.W.T. community. Yukon declared a substance use health emergency in January after a “drastic increase” in overdose deaths.
In Hay River, a council subcommittee will now continue work started by a group of government agencies that ultimately, councillors said, “fell by the wayside.”
Jameson said that group began by focusing on homelessness and proved an asset to the community, bringing together community leaders and, in her view, demonstrating results.
“There is more than just homelessness that needs to be dealt with,” the mayor said. “We think it was so effective that we’d like to keep it going with a broader focus.
“Things have changed. The landscape is changing. We had two sudden deaths in the community. There needs to be a refocus or all-encompassing 1/8approach 3/8 more than focusing on just one area.”
Jameson said the group involves the town’s friendship centre, residents with disabilities, territorial politicians, RCMP, the Town of Hay River, territorial government agencies related to housing, health and justice, and the West Point and Kat ‘odeeche First Nations.
On Monday, the mayor told council “strong leadership and all of us working together” would be required to tackle the problem.
Dohey said the group had “the potential to do a lot of good” and identify gaps that need to be addressed with fresh resources.
“The town is not equipped to deal with these issues on its own.
We don’t have the resources. I think a lot of the impacted agencies are in the same boat,” he said.
“Nobody has the resources to deal with these issues alone.”
Sarah Sibley is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the CABIN RADIO. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.