February 24, 2012
A rise in injection drug use on reserves in northern Ontario could fuel an HIV epidemic, health officials are warning.
In January, the remote community of Cat Lake declared a state of emergency over IV drug use there. Up to 70 percent of Cat Lake residents are addicted to prescription drugs such as OxyContin, according to Nishnawbe Aski Nation, a political group representing 49 First Nations in northern Ontario. In 2009, NAN declared a similar state of emergency over its entire territory.
The situation parallels that in Saskatchewan, where a spike in injection drug use has led to an HIV outbreak in the province during the last eight years. Injecting drugs became popular around 2004, said Saskatchewan Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Moira McKinnon. A rise in HIV rates soon followed, and the province currently has an HIV rate more than two times the national average.
Provinces like Saskatchewan are "illustrative of what we might anticipate, especially if some of the efforts to try and reduce and, hopefully, even prevent new cases of HIV in the area in this context of injection drug use aren't recognized, and if we don't take advantage of those strategies now," said Dr. Kathy Pouteau, a family doctor for Kasabonika Lake First Nation in northern Ontario.
Saskatchewan's needle-exchange programs distribute about 3 million needles annually for a population of roughly 1 million.
Of the 172 new HIV cases in Saskatchewan in 2010, 77 percent were aboriginal people. Nearly two-thirds of all new HIV cases in aboriginals result from injecting drugs.