The costs associated with addictions in the Northwest Territories are staggering.
Right off the bat this means policing and justice, and health care, but the impact extends to other parts of society that publicly funded social services are tasked with addressing.
The 19th Legislative Assembly placed the growing municipal funding gap – the difference between what the GNWT transfers to communities and what they actually need to balance their own budgets – in its list of priorities but what stands out from an addictions perspective is the bottomless pit of money territorial taxpayers are asked to contribute to year in and year out.
You could call it a social deficit, and it’s only going to get worse.
Priority #18 is among the most ambitious of the 22 that MLAs set for themselves in the weeks leading up to their swearing-in on Oct. 25. It calls for an “increase in the number and variety of culturally respectful, community-based mental health and addictions programs.”
But there isn’t even a GNWT-run treatment centre in the territory anymore, and it has already been clearly demonstrated that flying people down to Edmonton is not working.
This, in a territory where 74 per cent of people aged 15 or older describe themselves as a current drinker, and 43.2 per cent of them binge drink more than once a month (defined as four drinks in one sitting for a woman, or five for a man).
Nearly a third gamble more than $20 in a typical week, more than a third smoke cigarettes.
The costs aren’t limited to the living. Eight Canadian jurisdictions have suicide rates above the national average and the top three are the territories, with the NWT placing a distant second behind Nunavut and slightly ahead of our neighbours in the Yukon.
This doesn’t just represent a human tragedy, it illustrates yet another cost to current and future taxpayers, that being the unfathomable loss of productivity, the unknowable achievements and advances that will never happen in the wake of this crushing loss of life.
For the most part, people on both sides of the 60th Parallel will find a way to get drunk, high or both, so the challenge faced by the bodies tasked with caring for our communities is not to be minimized. And the people who show up to work day in and day out in order to help strangers who are, for the most part, the most vulnerable among us, should be celebrated.
But their task will remain incomplete without a clear strategy to address the large and growing social deficit the GNWT is effectively handing down to future generations.