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Elizabeth Innukshuk of Rankin Inlet was in Baker Lake this past week to help addictions worker Mary Kreelak, concerned citizen Nancy Attanik and addictions worker Jenny Mariq, from left, raise awareness on the problems solvent abuse is causing in the community. - photo courtesy of Leo Lareau

Enough is enough!

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, August 22, 2007

BAKER LAKE - Nancy Attanik has been surrounded by alcohol and drug abuse for most of her life.

The 47-year-old Baker Lake woman has wanted to do something to bring an end to substance abuse in her community for years, but kept putting it off for one reason or another.

That all came to an end recently, when she caught her teenage son and another youth sniffing gas.

She thought her son had beaten the habit after almost dying four years earlier.

He was in his 13th winter when he told his mother he was going out to play.

Awhile later, one of her brothers found the boy passed out near their house.

He had blacked out from inhaling solvents and Attanik still doesn't like to think about what might have happened if he hadn't been found so quickly.

"We took him right to the health centre and a nurse told us if he had sniffed just a little more, he could have been a goner," said Attanik, her voice choked with emotion.

"I feel bad because I kept putting off taking action against this problem in our community.

"But, when I caught him again this summer I was devastated, my heart broken, but I knew enough was enough.

"It is time to wake the community up to what's happening here and do something about it."

Attanik did a phone-in radio show on Aug. 14, and then walked to Prince River and back on Aug. 17 to bring attention to the problem so many youth in the community are dealing with.

The program was hosted by addiction workers Mary Kreelak and Jenny Mariq.

Kreelak said solvent abuse is a growing concern in Baker and she fully supports Attanik's attempt to raise awareness on the issue.

"We had Nancy (Attanik) on the radio show because we wanted to help her raise awareness about this problem before something fatal happens," said Kreelak.

"We have to make the parents, and everyone else in the community, aware of the problem... and we have to make the kids aware of the dangers of sniffing."

Kreelak said the addiction centre received a number of reports concerning solvent abuse in Baker this summer.

She said the reports involved kids as young as eight, with the majority being aged 12 to 17.

"Aug. 14 was the 16th anniversary of the addictions centre (Tunganiq Addiction project), so we planned to hold a radio show to mark the occasion.

"We then decided to talk about sniffing on the show and Nancy joined us as our special guest."

Attanik said this wasn't the first time she's seen kids sniffing solvents.

She said she's caught a number of them during the past few years and it's time to wake the community up.

"It's heartbreaking to see youth sniffing gas, naptha, glue, or whatever they can get their hands on," said Attanik.

"I want it to stop. It's time for the parents in this community to admit we have a serious problem here."

Attanik said there's too many parents who have no idea where their kids go, or what they do, when they leave the house.

She said one reason the kids are abusing solvents is because they're so terribly neglected at home.

"It's time for the people of Baker Lake to get involved with their kids and take responsibility for being a parent before something tragic happens.

"If they don't, it's just a matter of time before someone is found dead."

Attanik said another problem is that many parents don't believe their kids would ever sniff solvents.

She said they can deny it all they want, but that won't change the reality of the situation.

"Even kids who are with the ones sniffing are at risk because you don't know what's going to happen when someone is using that stuff.

"Parents in Baker have to open their eyes and realize they have to do something, not just sit around and pretend it doesn't exist or wait for it to just go away."

Attanik said the community has to work together to defeat the problem of solvent abuse in Baker.

She said if action isn't taken soon, youth in the community will pay with their lives.

"I hope my walking to the river will draw attention to the problem and encourage people to take action.

"I've been surrounded by alcohol and drug abuse my whole life and I'm fed up with it.

"Kids are going to die using this garbage.

"So many of our youth have a chance to enjoy a good life ahead of them, but sniffing will take that all away from them."