Skip to main content
first nations

Clifton Loon (left), 11, runs around outside during a break week from school in Cat Lake, Ont. on April 13, 2012.

Item Number 9 in the letter to members of the Cat Lake reserve from the children in Grade 6 is as blunt as it is painful.

"It hurts us and shoomis and kokum [grandpa and grandma]when you're doing drugs and you're not at home."

Cat Lake is the epicentre of prescription drug addiction in Canada. Community leaders figure that between 70 and 80 per cent of the adults are hooked on narcotic pain killers OxyContin or Percocet.

Governments and local health authorities are slowly gearing up to deal with the runaway addiction that has slammed communities across the country, but especially first nations. But the help can't come quickly enough for the children of Cat Lake.

"We feel that we don't know what to do to help you stop doing Drug," the children wrote as "Point Number Five."

"We want you to stop because it hurts our family and we don't like it when we're angry," according to point number four.

The children in this lake-soaked corner of northwestern Ontario, 400 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, put together the list over the course of a few days in a workshop with the help of a local band member.

They are desperately yearning for ways to end to the crisis in their community that triggered waves of theft and left children hungry and bereft of the stability and support they crave.

Out of a population of about 700, local officials say they collect 500 needles a week through the needle-exchange program. They have put 172 adults on their list of confirmed addicts, and another 250 are suspected. Almost everyone else is either a child or an elder. Oxy, the highly addictive and extremely expensive little pill, has become a way of life here and in many reserves.

The drug is supposed to be taken for intense pain, by prescription only. It produces an instant high when crushed, snorted or injected and that high has triggered a massive demand for the drug across the continent. Some of the biggest profits are drawn from some of the poorest people in Canada.

In Cat Lake and other parts of northwestern Ontario, health care workers just assume most of their adult patients are using.

And yet, the narcotic pain killer is no longer being produced. Purdue Pharma has pulled it from the shelves, prompting first nations leaders to warn of a pending crisis of withdrawal for which no one is well prepared.

Oxy addicts can build up a tolerance and require larger, more frequent doses to get high. But kicking the addiction, for many, is too punishing many to bear.

Abnormal sleeping, shakes, diarrhea, headache and anxiety are common; relapses frequent.

Authorities have been bracing for a withdrawal epidemic on reserves.

The Canadian Press