Thunder Bay

Addicted First Nation struggles with housing

In the First Nation community of Eabametoong in northwestern Ontario, an epidemic of prescription drug abuse is compounding the housing problems.

About 80 per cent of adults in northwestern Ontario's Eabametoong First Nation battles oxycontin addiction

A two-bedroom house in Eabametoong, where 24-year-old Rebecca Drake lives with her five children and her two parents. (Jody Porter/CBC)

In Eabametoong First Nation in northwestern Ontario, an epidemic of prescription drug abuse is compounding the community's housing problems.

Tears streamed down Rebecca Drake's face as she explained what it's like to live in a three-room house with five kids and her two parents. She said the children's father is caught up in prescription drug abuse that plagues the community. She has no one but her parents to lean on, and no way of escaping the cramped quarters to see her way forward.

Rebecca Drake is searching to find a way to move out of Eabametoong. (Jody Porter/CBC)

"If I asked someone, like a friend, to keep my kids, I'd probably have to pay this person a whole oxy," she said.

A whole oxycontin pill is worth about $400 in this community, which numbers about 1,200 people. It's estimated about 80 per cent of the adult population here is hooked on prescription pain killers.

Chief Harry Pappah said it's difficult to see Drake cry and hear about the despair that makes up her daily life.

Two of Rebecca Drake's five children in one of the two bedrooms in her Eabametoong home. (Jody Porter/CBC)

"It just hits home that's the situation we're living in," Pappah said. "It shouldn't be [this way]."

Drake said her only hope is to find a way to move to Thunder Bay, about 360 kilometres south of Eabametoong.

Since there is no road to the community, she'll need to find the money to pay for six plane tickets for herself and her children.

Funding woes discussed

Chief Harry Pappah said he hopes a detox centre, run by the First Nation, will help families lthat are struggling with addiction. Eabametoong is using money from other government-funded programs to pay for the detox centre, but Pappah said more could be done with the full support of the federal government.

Clients and workers at the centre agree.

Fred Meeseetawageesic said the day program, in a converted house, is helping him. But he said the First Nation needs more "funding for the detox" and to "hire other workers who are qualified to look after people."

Meeseetawageesic said it's also difficult to go home at the end of a day of addictions counselling. He dreads the phone calls from other community members looking "to score."

Barbara Boice works at Eabametoong's detox centre. (Jody Porter/CBC)

Program assistant Barbara Boice said government funding would help expand the program and cut the 50-person waiting list.

"It would be nice that they would recognize what we're doing here for our community," Boice said.

"Support from our nursing station would be nice also."

Prescription drug abuse is the topic of a chiefs meeting for Matawa First Nations in Longlac starting on Tuesday.