National Addictions Awareness Week 2020: Help reduce stigma and save lives



A message from the FNHA's Four Directions Team

During National Addictions Awareness Week, we want to focus on how reducing stigma can save lives. In the context of addiction, stigma means thinking less of a person or treating them differently because of their substance use. We work to end that stigma because we know it causes harm. People who are stigmatized can become reluctant to discuss their challenges with addiction or seek medical help.

To support people who struggle with addiction, we need to be supportive and non-judgemental. This is why the FNHA embraces Indigenous harm reduction, a process of integrating cultural knowledge and values into the strategies and services associated with the work of harm reduction, a public health approach that meets people where they're at with open arms, acceptance and compassion.

As a result of the multigenerational impacts of colonialism, public health challenges such as substance use and mental health-related issues are prevalent in First Nations communities.​ Alcohol, amphetamines, and opiates are a few of the substances causing significant harm.

Change begins with us as individuals. Following are the key messages we all need to understand and practise if we want to be part of the solution:

1) Embrace connection; it is the opposite of addiction. People struggling with addiction need to be supported and connected to others. Build community, support healthy relationships, autonomy, purpose and identity.

2) Practise empathy and kindness. Kindness can actually help save lives.

3) Use people-first language, not demeaning language. Use language that reflects the medical nature of substance use disorders and promotes recovery. See this resou​rce for more information.

4) Understand that harm reduction does not enable substance use. Rather, harm reduction saves lives and provides safe choices to people struggling with substance use. People who struggle with addiction use substances to curb pain. Ostracizing people who sell and use drugs simply pushes substance use underground and makes it more dangerous. Hitting rock bottom can be more destructive than helpful, help people where they are at. And addiction is not a choice. See this resource for more facts about addiction.

At the FNHA, we see substance use as a health issue rather than a moral issue. We encourage you to adopt a harm-reduction approach in your life and to have conversations about how to keep yourself, family members and friends safe.

About the FNHA's Four Directions team:

The Four Directions team at the FNHA is committed to supporting healthcare providers and ending stigma related to mental health, substance use, and harm reduction by incorporating culturally safe, destigmatizing, and respectful practices The team consists of Indigenous Wellness Educators, Cultural Advisors, a Pharmacist, Nursing Practice Consultants, Clinical Nurse Specialists, a Project Manager, and a Program Manager – most of whom are Indigenous.

The name “Four Directions" comes from the idea of strengthening the body, mind, spirit and emotions; it's an Indigenous way of viewing oneself. As human beings, we strive to bring balance within these four areas, and it is a life-long journey.

We know that substance use is often directly related to the traumatic multigenerational impacts of colonization. Thus, the Four Directions team is committed to supporting the improvement of substance use and mental-health-related health outcomes by integrating anti-stigma education and traditional Indigenous knowledge. This includes taking direction from other Indigenous people. 

The Four Directions team is working with the First Nations communities to bring harm reduction strategies to help support people with addictions. In particular, our “Not Just Naloxone: Two-Day Train the Trainer program" is aimed at supporting community-based harm-reduction work by educating health care providers on the history of prohibition in Canada, decolonizing substance use and Indigenous harm reduction practices, trauma- and resiliency-informed practice, and anti-stigma work.

With such initiatives, we are working to lessen the gap between First Nations and non-first Nations people by deconstructing the systemic racism and stigma that continues to exist today. Access to culturally safe and appropriate treatment and medicines are essential to supporting people with substance use and helping them take care of their sacred lives. The Four Direction team's work reflects the belief that Indigenous knowledge is rooted in spirituality, holism, natural environment and connection.

The Four Directions Team will continue our work to destigmatize substance use. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out to us at: 4directi​

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