Changing the Paradigm on the Addiction Crisis in Thunder Bay

Breaking free
Breaking free

Drug addiction remains a significant challenge in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where traditional enforcement approaches have proven insufficient.

Despite substantial investments in policing, courts, and jails, the flow of drugs into the city and region persists. That is not to put down the efforts of the Thunder Bay Police Service and the Ontario Provincial Police, but to state that despite their best efforts, they are being slowly and sadly overrun.

The demand for drugs drives the suppliers to take all the risks that they are to get harmful drugs into our community and region. Some of that is just simple economics, the prices for illicit drugs in our region are far higher than in Southern Ontario, the potential reward has drug gangs willing to risk seizures to supply that demand.

What appears needed is a paradigm shift in how this problem gets looked at that outlines the best policies to address the ongoing issue with drug addiction, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive, community-based approach.

In Thunder Bay the current Drug Strategy in 2019, five years ago when the last Annual Report to the community was posted online and that was celebrating 10 years with a cake!

The latest report from September 1, 2022 states, “It is concluded that through collaborative Community Allies, Working Groups and the Implementation Panel, the Drug Strategy continues to implement evidence-based initiatives to reduce the burden and harms related to substance use in our city and region”.

To many the current strategy(s), which has seen so many deaths in our community from overdoses of increasingly potent drugs are not working.

What we are witnessing is a domino effect series of failures that is leading to the growing crisis. The Child Welfare program which seems often to be more focused on scooping children and not on treatment and keeping families together, along with long-term PTSD from the Indian Residential School era has created a roller coaster ride of more failures than the system should tolerate.

Couple that with a legislative process that Indigenous organizations have to put in place all of the “White Law” before they can actually work toward more traditional treatment and cultural practices and the roller coaster of despair continues.

The current system is expensive and it isn’t achieving measurable successes. That is not to suggest it is a complete failure, but each family broken apart only continues that seemingly never ending cycle of despair.

The Costs of Traditional Enforcement

Thunder Bay has seen considerable spending on law enforcement, judicial processes, and incarceration related to drug offenses. These costs include:

  • Police: The Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) allocates significant resources to drug-related investigations, arrests, and patrols. The annual cost for policing in the city is substantial, with a significant portion dedicated to drug-related activities.
  • Courts: The judicial system in Thunder Bay processes numerous drug-related cases, which consume court time and resources. This includes the costs associated with trials, legal representation, and administrative expenses.
  • Jails: Incarceration of individuals for drug offences is costly, with expenses related to housing, feeding, and providing healthcare for inmates. Recidivism rates remain high, indicating that jail time alone is not an effective deterrent.

The sad reality is the number of people charged with drug related offences not directly drug trafficking, lead to seriously addicted inmates, and incredibly there is really not much for effective treatment in place in the jails. Inmates sitting in the jail will basically promise the court anything in order to gain bail. The usual conditions are that keeping the peace and being of good behaviour also include no drugs or alcohol.

For a serious addict, without treatment that is a promise easily made and almost instantly forgotten. It would be like a diabetic being told to get out of jail they must avoid insulin. It just isn’t going to happen.

All of these combined costs have not effectively halted the influx of drugs, necessitating a shift in strategy.

Current Policies for Combating Drug Addiction

  1. Harm Reduction Programs
    • Supervised Injection Sites (SIS): Establishing supervised injection sites can provide a safe space for individuals to use drugs under medical supervision. This reduces the risk of overdose deaths and the spread of infectious diseases, while also connecting users with support services. This process was expanded under a pilot project in Vancouver that saw what the federal Conservatives say was at least six overdose deaths per day in the city.
    • Needle Exchange Programs: These programs help prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis by providing clean needles and safely disposing of used ones. However often the reality is this is not an exchange but a supply of the needles and other “tools” for drug injection.
  2. Comprehensive Treatment and Rehabilitation
    • Accessible Rehab Facilities: Increasing the number of rehabilitation centers with affordable and accessible services can help individuals recover from addiction. These facilities should offer a range of treatments, including detoxification, counselling, and aftercare support. This is an area that needs to be seriously expanded.
    • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): MAT programs, which combine medications like methadone or buprenorphine with counselling and behavioural therapies, have been proven to be effective in treating opioid addiction. However the methadone program according to critics has simply become like a leg-hold trap keeping people on the drug for years.

    How Long Should Methadone Treatment Last? Expert Opinions on Transitioning from Opioid Addiction to Drug-Free Living

    Methadone is a well-established treatment for opioid addiction, offering individuals a stable means to manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. However, the duration of methadone treatment can vary significantly among patients, and experts often debate the optimal length of time for therapy. This article explores expert opinions on how long a person should be on methadone and the factors influencing the transition to a drug-free life.

    Understanding Methadone Treatment

    Methadone is a long-acting opioid agonist used in Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder (OUD). It helps reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings, enabling individuals to stabilize their lives and engage in recovery activities. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), methadone, when used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, can improve patient outcomes and reduce the risk of overdose and infectious diseases.

  3. Expert Opinions on Duration of Methadone Treatment

    Individualized Treatment Plans

    Many experts agree that the duration of methadone treatment should be tailored to the individual needs of each patient. According to Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of NIDA, “The length of time a patient remains in methadone treatment should be based on their specific needs and progress. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.”

    Minimum Recommended Duration

    The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends a minimum of 12 months of methadone treatment. Studies have shown that shorter treatment durations are associated with higher rates of relapse. SAMHSA states, “Patients who discontinue methadone treatment prematurely are at a high risk of returning to opioid use.”

    Long-Term Maintenance

    For some individuals, long-term or even lifelong methadone maintenance may be necessary. Research published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine highlights that patients on long-term methadone maintenance therapy (MMT) have better outcomes in terms of sustained abstinence and reduced criminal activity. Dr. Mary Jeanne Kreek, a pioneer in methadone research, asserts, “For many patients, long-term methadone treatment provides the stability needed to lead productive lives.”

    Factors Influencing Treatment Duration

    Severity and Duration of Addiction

    The severity and duration of a patient’s opioid addiction play a crucial role in determining the length of methadone treatment. Patients with a long history of heavy opioid use may require extended treatment periods to achieve and maintain stability.

    Co-Occurring Disorders

    Patients with co-occurring mental health disorders often benefit from longer methadone treatment as they work to address multiple facets of their health. Integrated treatment plans that address both addiction and mental health are crucial for these individuals.

    Social and Environmental Factors

    Stable housing, employment, and a supportive social network can influence the success of tapering off methadone. Patients with unstable living conditions or lack of support may need longer treatment durations to ensure a successful transition to a drug-free life.

    Tapering Off Methadone

    When patients are ready to taper off methadone, the process should be gradual and closely monitored by healthcare professionals. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) advises that tapering should be individualized and adjusted based on the patient’s response. A slow taper, often over several months to a year, can help minimize withdrawal symptoms and reduce the risk of relapse.


    The duration of methadone treatment for opioid addiction should be individualized, with experts recommending a minimum of 12 months to ensure stability and reduce the risk of relapse. For some individuals, long-term or even lifelong maintenance may be necessary to maintain a drug-free life. Factors such as the severity of addiction, co-occurring disorders, and social support play critical roles in determining the appropriate length of treatment. Ultimately, the goal is to support each patient’s journey to recovery in a manner that maximizes their chances of long-term success.

  4. Mental Health and Support Services
    • Integrated Mental Health Services: Providing integrated care that addresses both mental health and addiction issues is crucial. Many individuals with substance use disorders also suffer from mental health conditions that need to be treated concurrently.
    • Peer Support Programs: Programs that involve individuals who have successfully overcome addiction can offer guidance, support, and hope to those currently struggling.
  5. Community Education and Prevention
    • Public Awareness Campaigns: Educating the community about the dangers of drug use and the signs of addiction can help prevent substance abuse. These campaigns should target all demographics, including youth, who are particularly vulnerable.
    • School Programs: Implementing comprehensive drug education programs in schools can teach young people about the risks of drug use and equip them with skills to resist peer pressure.
  6. Economic and Social Support
    • Employment and Housing Assistance: Providing stable employment and housing can significantly reduce the risk of relapse for individuals recovering from addiction. Programs that offer job training and placement, as well as affordable housing, can help former users reintegrate into society.
    • Social Services Coordination: Ensuring that individuals have access to social services, such as food assistance and childcare, can alleviate some of the pressures that may lead to substance abuse.

Indigenous Traditional Drug Treatment Centres: A Path to Healing and Overcoming Addiction

Indigenous Traditional drug treatment centres have emerged as a powerful and effective alternative for addressing substance abuse issues within Indigenous communities. These centres blend cultural practices with modern therapeutic techniques to create a holistic healing environment. This article explores the success of Indigenous Traditional drug treatment centres and how they help individuals overcome addiction.

Cultural Connection and Healing

  1. Holistic Approach Indigenous Traditional drug treatment centres focus on healing the mind, body, and spirit. This holistic approach recognizes that addiction is not merely a physical ailment but is deeply connected to emotional and spiritual well-being. Traditional healing practices, such as sweat lodges, smudging ceremonies, and talking circles, are integral parts of the treatment process. These practices help individuals reconnect with their cultural roots and find a sense of identity and purpose.
  2. Elders and Traditional Healers Elders and traditional healers play a crucial role in these treatment centres. Their wisdom and guidance provide a strong support system for individuals in recovery. Elders lead ceremonies and offer counsel, while traditional healers may use plant-based medicines and other traditional methods to support the healing process. This culturally grounded support is essential for many Indigenous people, fostering a sense of belonging and community.

Success Rates and Evidence of Effectiveness

  1. Higher Retention Rates Indigenous Traditional drug treatment centres often report higher retention rates compared to mainstream treatment programs. This can be attributed to the culturally relevant and respectful approach these centres employ, which resonates more deeply with Indigenous individuals. Feeling understood and respected within their cultural context encourages participants to stay engaged in their treatment.
  2. Lower Relapse Rates The comprehensive nature of these programs, addressing the root causes of addiction, leads to lower relapse rates. By incorporating traditional practices, participants develop a stronger sense of self and community, which helps them maintain sobriety. The emphasis on community and continuous support also plays a significant role in preventing relapse.

Therapeutic Techniques and Programs

  1. Cultural and Spiritual Practices Incorporating cultural and spiritual practices into therapy helps individuals heal from trauma and build resilience. Activities like drumming, dancing, and storytelling are not only therapeutic but also strengthen cultural identity and pride. These practices provide a sense of continuity and connection to heritage, which is crucial for emotional healing.
  2. Modern Therapeutic Methods While grounded in traditional practices, these centres also incorporate modern therapeutic methods such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, and trauma-informed care. The integration of these techniques ensures a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses all aspects of addiction.

Community and Family Involvement

  1. Family Support Programs Many Indigenous Traditional treatment centres include family support programs, recognizing the importance of involving loved ones in the healing process. These programs offer counseling and education to family members, helping them understand addiction and how they can support their loved one’s recovery.
  2. Community Healing Initiatives Community involvement is a cornerstone of these centres. Community healing initiatives, such as communal meals, cultural events, and group activities, foster a sense of unity and shared responsibility for recovery. This collective approach reinforces the idea that healing is not an individual journey but a communal one.


Addressing the drug addiction crisis in Thunder Bay requires a shift from a purely punitive approach to a multifaceted strategy that prioritizes harm reduction, treatment, mental health support, education, and social services. By investing in these comprehensive measures, the community can reduce the prevalence of addiction, lower the associated costs of law enforcement and judicial processes, and ultimately save lives.

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