M’Chigeeng Chief Hare wants an end to ‘carry homes’ for methadone clients

by Robin Burridge with files from Alicia McCutcheon

M’CHIGEENG—M’Chigeeng First Nation Chief Joe Hare is calling for the stop of ‘carry home’ methadone treatment after the death of M’Chigeeng resident Daniel Dallas Joseph Anwhatin earlier this month––a fatality the chief suspects was linked to methadone.

“Another death has occurred in M’Chigeeng,” states a press release issued by the band. “A young man died suddenly at a house party, but the exact cause of death is not known, however Chief Hare believes drugs were involved, particularly methadone, which is prescribed by a Dr. Brian Dressler of Little Current. “In another death last year, another band member died from a methadone overdose from the use of carry home methadone that comes in large dosages.”

On the morning of June 28, the UCCM Anishnaabe Police Service in M’Chigeeng were called to a scene where a man was found with no vital signs. Pronounced dead at the scene, the police commenced an investigation to determine the cause of death of 35-year-old Daniel Anwhatin.

“We are still waiting for the results of the medical examiner,” UCCM Chief Rodney Nahwegahbow told The Expositor. “Until than, I cannot confirm the cause of death and I cannot disclose the details of the investigation. However, no charges have been laid yet.”

Though Chief Nahwegahbow would not speculate on the cause of Mr. Anwhatin’s death, when asked, he did comment that he also does not support the use of ‘carry home’ methadone due to past problems in the community, and issues of possible trafficking, abuse and/or overdose.

‘Carry home’ is the ability to take home several days worth of methadone (the synthetic opioid used to help the treatment of those with an opioid dependence and mitigate withdrawal symptoms).

In an interview with The Expositor, Chief Hare told The Expositor that despite conversations with Dr. Dressler and letters to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, M’Chigeeng’s concerns with the practice of carry home methadone have not been addressed.

“The community is suffering,” said Chief Hare. “It is clearly evident that the program is not working; not only are there no success stories, it is doing damage to our people and resulting in death.”

The chief told The Expositor that he met with Dr. Dressler last fall, along with Police Chief Nahwegahbow and Roger Beaudin, M’Chigeeng Health Centre director, to discuss the carry home program.

“He (Dr. Dressler) gave us a song and dance about human rights and then explained how the treatment works,” said Chief Hare of the meeting. “I understand how it is working; it’s killing my people.”

“He (Dr. Dressler) won’t listen and keeps prescribing carry home, despite our cry for it to stop and the deaths on the Island continue as a result of the program,” continued Chief Hare. “We are calling for the stop of carry home treatment before any more deaths occur.”

In 2010, 29-year-old Leslie Trudeau of Wikwemikong died due to a methadone overdose, leading to charges of trafficking methadone and one count of manslaughter for 21-year-old Trisha Pheasant of Wikwemikong.

Ms. Trudeau’s death, came on the heels of the death of 22-year-old Trista Panamick of M’Chigeeng First Nation, who overdosed on methadone in July 2011.

Ms. Panamick’s death led to three individuals being charged with trafficking methadone and manslaughter.

Due to the deaths, the UCCM Anishnaabe Police issued a press release in December of 2011, objecting to the use of carry home methadone.

“I feel that methadone may have a place in helping drug dependant people recover from their addictions, but its benefits also pose certain risks for our communities when it’s allowed to be dispensed as a carry home product,” states Chief Nahwegahbow in the release.

Wikwemikong Tribal Police Chief Gary Reid supported Chief Nahwegahbow’s opinion on carry home methadone, previously telling The Expositor that he felt the methadone program needs to have a serious look at the carry home procedure.

“Methadone is a poison for people,” Chief Reid said. “We caution people that if you’re not on it, under the care and treatment of a physician, it’s dangerous. It’s a drug, right? I wonder at the whole process of it (methadone clinic). The whole take home system needs to be looked at and totally revamped.”

Chief Nahwegahbow was to join the M’Chigeeng chief and council, as well as Manitoulin OPP Staff Sergeant Webb on Tuesday, June 10 to discuss what could be done to solve the problem of methadone in the community.

“The community wants and expects something to be done,” said Chief Hare. “They are calling for no more deaths.”

Chief Hare revealed, prior to press time on Monday, June 9, that he would be proposing legal action against Dr. Dressler.

“The doctor is being negligent,” claimed the Chief. “He is not looking after his patients and he is not even offering counselling which is supposed to be a key factor in the treatment program. It is supposed to be a short-term treatment, but there are no success stories I have heard of and no end in sight for Dr. Dressler’s patients.”

“Dr. Dressler’s methadone clinic is just not working,” concluded Chief Hare. “Myself and council are developing an action plan to prevent any future death of any band members and I am recommending that Dr. Dressler be charged with criminal negligence, malpractice and possibly manslaughter. It’s time he is stopped.”

Despite repeated attempts from The Expositor to contact Dr. Dressler, he was unavailable for comment.

Chief Hare and M’Chigeeng council are recommending a multi-point action plan, which includes the implementation of counselling, training programs, education, and traditional practices to assist with the treatment and prevention of addictions of all kinds affecting band members.

The action plan reflects similar recommendations from Mindemoya doctor Kevin O’Connor.

“I am not a methadone doctor or an addictions specialist, but medication is only a small part of the recovery process,” explained Dr. O’Connor when contacted by The Expositor. “An ounce of prevention is worth an ounce of cure and I believe that social, psychological, community and spiritual elements should be combined as the main form of treatment.”

Dr. O’Connor would not directly comment on the recent methadone deaths, but did say, “if it was me, I would assess recent events, if indeed there have been three deaths associated with methadone, then one would assume that perhaps the methadone carry home process would benefit from closer evaluation, but I do not prescribe methadone, nor am I an expert on the matter.”

Dr. O’Connor also stressed that methadone is suppose to be used as a, “transitional treatment, over the course of a few month, at least that how I’ve seen it in other settings.”

M’Chigeeng chief, council and guests are to meet Tuesday evening. Follow next week’s Expositor for the results of the gathering and more on this controversial issue.