Yellowknife woman petitions for better Northern addictions recovery support

Jennifer Lafferty is collecting signatures for two online petitions calling for improved alcohol and drug addictions care in the Northwest Territories.

Jennifer Lafferty calls for an in-patient alcohol and drug treatment centre based in the N.W.T.

Jennifer Lafferty says N.W.T. residents need better access to addictions care and counselling. (Mitch Wiles/CBC)

A woman in Yellowknife says she didn't receive adequate care when she sought treatment for her fentanyl addiction; now she's calling on the territorial government to create an in-patient alcohol and drug treatment centre for people in similar situations.

Jennifer Lafferty says she approached her doctor in 2014, seeking help while she was going through what she later realized were the symptoms of withdrawal.

"I confided in him the struggles, what I was dealing with, and basically he concluded that everything I was going through was in my head," Lafferty told CBC.

"[He told me] I needed to stop thinking about it and the problem will go away. It was extremely discouraging."

It wasn't until after she spoke to other addicts that she was able to get the guidance and help she was looking for. 

In 2016, she again went to her doctor with issues related to alcohol. Lafferty says her doctor's solution was to prescribe her antidepressants in increasing amounts until she felt "stable and happy," along with sending her to a 12-step program for addicts. 

She describes the experiences as "frustrating."

There has been no residential addictions treatment facility in the N.W.T. since the Government of the Northwest Territories contract for the Nats'ejee K'eh Treatment Centre, located on the K'atlo'deeche First Nation reserve near Hay River, was axed in 2013.

Northerners now looking for facility-based treatment options are sent to Alberta or British Columbia. That's not good enough for Lafferty.

"When you're struggling with mental health and addictions, I believe the support of the community and friends and family is so vital in the healing process," she said.

"A lot of these people are suffering with unresolved pain and issues. A lot of them, it won't be in their best interest to be sent away to another facility for rehabilitation."

Online petitions started

A total of 172 people attended southern treatment facilities in 2016/2017, costing the government $2.2 million.

As of Dec. 8, 2017, 45 N.W.T. residents were attending a facility-based treatment program outside the territory. Program stays range between six to 16 weeks depending on the facility.

Lafferty has created two petitions calling for a treatment centre closer to home: one at and the other on the Government of the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly website.

She has also written Health Minister Glen Abernethy with her concerns.

In an email response dated Nov. 7, Abernethy said, "While these programs are out-of-territory, they offer a wide range of intensive and specialized programming for the many different forms of addictions N.W.T. residents are facing."

He added that creating a treatment centre in the North would be very difficult because "many residents would still have to travel outside of their home community to attend a Northern facility."

Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart helped Lafferty create one of her petitions. He plans to table it in the Legislative Assembly after it closes on April 18.

Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart supports Lafferty's campaign to improve addictions treatment in the North. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

"We need to take a different approach to how we offer [addictions] services, and adopt more options outside of the clinical model that allow people to connect with their traditions, the healing traditions of their people and also with their communities," Testart said.

As of Jan. 2 Lafferty had collected just over 200 signatures between the two online petitions.

She plans to do more work to spread awareness about her petition in the coming months.


  • This story has been updated to more accurately reflect when Lafferty met with a doctor.
    Jan 09, 2018 1:04 PM CT