Becoming aware of drug use in the community, understanding addiction as an illness, and how to help those who are struggling were a few of the key issues district residents learned about at the “Substance Awareness and Pathways to Healing” conference held here last week.
Riverside Health Care and the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board brought the three-day educational conference to Fort Frances on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday.
About 250 people attended in all and organizers said it was very well-received.
“The feedback has been very positive across the board for all our speakers,” said Kathryn Pierroz, one of the event organizers.
The conference was made possible through funding provided by the Northwest Local Health Integration Network's opiate strategy fund.
Many of those who attended said it changed their perspective on how they look at people with a drug addiction.
“I think [the conference] helped everybody to gain a better perspective in terms of stigma, and how we can break that down and address it as a community,” said co-organizer Lori Maki, the vice-president of Health Services at Riverside Health Care.
One attendee who works as a nurse told Maki the conference was “eye-opening” and that she is looking forward to changing the way she looks at people with an addiction when providing health care.
The conference got underway Monday morning at the Copper River Inn with a traditional opening from Elder Richard Morrison and Dwayne Morrison, followed by a presentation from an OPP detective and two International Falls police officers.
The police spoke about the drug trends they were seeing in the community and the types of drugs they're finding on the streets.
“When the OPP and the International Falls Police spoke, I think people were amazed because we just don't recognize how significant the drug use issue is across the Rainy River District,” said Maki.
Two members of the Northwestern Health Unit then spoke about the harm reduction services it offers and how they help people who currently struggle with a drug addiction.
After their talk, Elder Phyllis Shaugabay and Dr. Andrew Affleck spoke about traditional healing and current addiction management trends.
Annie McCullough, co-founder of Faces and Voices of Recovery Canada, then gave an afternoon presentation during which she discussed the impact of substance abuse on families and how to help others achieve recovery.
Mark Brand, of Save on Meats and A Better Life Foundation, followed McCullough to wrap up the first day of the conference.
He discussed the importance of sustainable business, as well as how to blend corporate and community leadership.
“Mark is, without a doubt, a rock star when it comes to social impact businesses,” said Pierroz.
Day 2 of the conference began Tuesday morning with motivational speaker Allan Kehler giving attendees a deeper understanding of addictions, self-harm, and suicide.
Ron Kanutski followed with a presentation on planting the seeds to help others achieve recovery, in which he discussed how people who are struggling need a positive sense of belonging, purpose, identity, and self-worth.
Bob Bernie, community mobilization officer for the OPP, then brought people together at the “Situation Table,” which sat organizations from various sectors including mental health, addictions, justice, social services, employment, and education.
The next presentation focused on peer support and recovery. Courtney Lovell, of WRise LLC Consulting and Our Wellness Collective, spoke to the effects of recovery coaching throughout all the stages of the process.
Justin Luke Riley, CEO of Young People in Recovery, built upon Lovell's discussion on how to properly approach recovery and how to create a recovery-ready community.
“When Courtney and Justin spoke about their own experiences, I think that it was impactful,” said Maki.
“These are people [with lived experience] and it clearly shows there is support, there is recovery, and it is possible.”
A public programming session, featuring several keynote speakers, took place at the Copper River Inn later that Tuesday to wrap up the second day of the conference.
The final day on Thursday, held at La Place Rendez-Vous, began with registered nurse Jenn Corbett and Dr. Kiti Freier Randall, a pediatric nerurodevelopment psychologist, speaking about the impact of prenatal and parental drug use on children.
Tracy Smith, founder and president of Speakers for Change, then hosted a workshop to explore the role that family members, loved ones, and support professionals play in the recovery process.
To cap off the daytime presentations, Sgt. Anne McCoy of the local OPP spoke about “Project Sunset,” a program focused on building sustainable community partnerships to identify innovative solutions that can address the root of youth crime.
The final presentation for the conference was given by Tracy Smith, who spoke about addiction in the family and her own story of hope.
She shared how her daughter struggled with an addiction throughout her teenage years and what she did to help her successfully recover.
Maki was very pleased with the turnout and response from the conference attendees.
She would like to use the conference as a starting point towards some next steps in community outreach and support.
“I think this is a launching pad for taking the next steps in terms of how we can further educate ourselves, our community, and service providers about opioids and other addictions,” Maki remarked.
She doesn't want this issue to lose traction and hopes the conference will start the conversations necessary in creating community supports.