There is little argument that drug abuse has become an issue amongst First Nations, but a move by Health Canada to track prescription drug abuse in Canada is drawing harsh criticism by First Nations leaders in Alberta.

Spokesman Herman Wierenga of the First Nation and Inuit Health Branch told the CBC on April 14 that figures on the non-insurance health benefits Natives receive as part of their treaty rights are needed to be able to track what drugs are dispensed. Natives must sign consent forms to release their information by September 1st.

Policy Advisor for Treaty Seven Norma Large, however, criticized the forms as granting unrestricted access to an individual Native’s medical records.

“It’s a blanket consent, it’s being able to review our information from the time we’re born until the time we die,” Large said. “And I don’t know if anybody would be willing to allow that and, in fact, former Health Minister Alan Rock said he would not sign this consent form.

“So if it’s not good enough for that person, why is it good enough for the First Nations?” asked Large.

A statement from Health Canada said the forms stipulate who exactly would be able to see the information and that it would only be retained for seven years.

Large responded that there are better ways of dealing with prescription drug abuse by monitoring doctors, pharmacies, and addressing the causes of addiction.

The Health Canada measure was a recommendation made on April 10 by a federal judge investigating the prescription drug overdose deaths of two Natives on the Eden Valley reserve.