Wiky addictions program deemed success nearing end of year one

WIKWEMIKONG—This spring will mark one year since the opening of the Sunrise Clinic addictions program in Wikwemikong, a partnership between First Step, the operators of the clinic, and the Wikwemikong chief and council. Though the program is only a year old, it has already made a major impact in the community and is establishing itself as a base to not only help battle opiate addiction, but to help change lives through the program’s unique model of combining traditional and First Nation medicine with an emphasis on counselling.

“So far the program has been going really well,” commented Nahndahweh Tchigehgaming (Wikwemikong Health Centre) Health Service Director Mary Jo Wabano. “We have developed a good process for intake with patients attending the Sunrise Clinic where Dr. Sankey performs a medical assessment and manages their medical treatment plan and then following up with Tim Ominika, our wellness case manager (also located at the clinic), who assesses clients holistically and develops and manages their individual wellness plan.”

“We have also recently hired an addiction clinician through the Mental Health Clinic who works closely with Tim, Sunrise Clinic and support services,” continued Ms. Wabano. “It is all about creating a circle of care for the clients. We leave it up to them who they want to include in their wellness plan, they can give consent to bring in other agencies, family or knowledge keepers.”

The knowledge keepers (elders) are available one morning a week at the clinic to provide guidance and share teachings through individual or group sessions.

“The program is great,” added Dr. Sankey. “The community has been very supportive. I am very happy to see even individuals who were less informed (about opiate addiction treatment) become opened minded. We had a great turnout for our health day gathering recently and people who may have had doubts before were pleased to see the great results.”

“Of the 90 individuals who have come forward for treatment, a 50-50 blend of men and women, 80 are still in treatment,” said Dr. Sankey. “In other areas of medicine you want to treat patients and send them on their way, but with opiate addiction it isn’t so easy. Take diabetes as an example; in an ideal world all people with diabetes would get off insulin through weight-loss, diet and exercise, but in the real world a lot of people can’t. Chronic opiate addiction is similar—in an ideal world all people would be able to get off opiate replacement (methadone or Suboxone), but there are some real limitations. If they come off too soon or without addressing underlying issues, they could relapse. With methadone or Suboxone we are trying to help patients get off drug use, address underlying issues such as trauma, depression, physical or mental abuse through counselling and then achieve stability. They can then begin to reintegrate with their community and then we can try to reduce their dosage. The goal is to get the patient off and I have had many who have tapered off, but it needs to be gradual and when patients are ready.”

Dr. Sankey was proud to share that 43 percent of the clinic’s patients were drug free within the first 30 days.

“By drug free, that means all drugs, not just opiates and alcohol,” explained Dr. Sankey.

He credits the program’s success to the full time band counselling and integrated patient care.

“Counselling is so important,” stressed Dr. Sankey. “Imagine someone in the middle of a lake treading water. If you can get a boat out to them, they can climb out of the water (treating a patient with methadone or Suboxone), but they still need to paddle to shore. It’s a long hard paddle, but they can’t get to shore without paddling. Sitting in the boat is better than drowning, but it’s still just sitting. Counselling is the paddling. Only the patient can do the paddling—we can provide them with an oar, resources to help them, but the real work can only be done by the individual.”

Dr. Sankey said that many patients at the Sunrise Clinic have been ‘paddling,’ and that through their hard work and resources provided by the partnership of First Step and Wikwemikong, many have made successful changes in their lives and will continue to do so moving forward.

To learn more about the Sunrise Clinic call 705-859-2225.

When the Water Street Clinic closed in Little Current, patients began travelling to Espanola and Sudbury. Wikwemikong began exploring a partnership with First Step (which also operates several other clinics in Ontario including ones in Belleville, Peterborough, Oshawa and Scarborough) with the end result being the creation of the Sunrise Clinic last May.