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Friendship Centres ‘deeply concerned’ with opioid, HIV crisis

By Ryan Forbes Mar 20, 2023 | 5:00 AM

Staff with Indigenous Friendship Centres now have access to a new harm reduction toolkit to fight against the growing opioid crisis across northwestern Ontario.

The Ontario Federation Indigenous Friendship Centre has developed an 84-page PDF to assist friendship centre staff who are dealing with rapidly increasing HIV infections as a result of limited harm reduction services in the area.

In Kenora, the Northwestern Health Unit reported nine cases of new HIV infections – more than the previous eight years combined, largely fueled by drug use and the sharing of infected needles.

But Executive Director with Kenora’s Ne-Chee Friendship Centre, Patti Fairfield, believes the number to be much higher.

“We are deeply concerned about the safety of our community as the opioid pandemic grows,” says Fairfield.

“This toolkit will help ensure our programs and services are safe for community members and equip our staff with harm-reduction best practices.”  

The document details specific language staff members can use when dealing with those who are unhoused, dealing with a mental health or addictions crisis, and culturally respectful approaches to harm reduction.

There are 29 friendship centres across the province and 7 of them can be found in northwestern Ontario, with locations in Kenora, Dryden, Sioux Lookout, International Falls, Atikokan, Thunder Bay and Geraldton.

All locations offer a combination of mental health and addictions programming, and staff work to coordinate services with other community services whenever possible.

Friendship centres add they work to ‘improve the quality of life for Indigenous people living in an urban environment by supporting self-determined activities, which encourage equal access to and participation in Canadian society and which respect Indigenous cultural distinctiveness.’


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