Alberta First Nation issues warning after 22 overdoses in 48 hours
An Indigenous community in southern Alberta has issued a public warning after a rash of opioid-related overdoses.
The Blood Tribe Administration released the warning on social media Friday morning after the community of nearly 13,000 was hit with 22 overdoses in a 48-hour span earlier in the week. One of the overdoses was fatal.
The administration believes carfentanil, which is roughly 100 times stronger than fentanyl, is to blame for the recent spike.
“We are concerned about the well-being of our tribal members and issue this warning again in hopes of preventing deaths,” the community wrote in the statement. “We have been informed that more overdoses have occurred in recent days and the alert is not being taken seriously.”
With headquarters in Stand Off, Alta., the Blood Tribe reserve covers more than 1,400 square kilometres southwest of the city of Lethbridge, making it the largest First Nations reserve in Canada.
Kyle Melting Tallow, chief of the Blood Tribe Police Service, said officers have been working around the clock and coming in on their days off to help out with the cause.
“This has an impact on many families who’ve had to deal with their loved ones dying, or even ending up in the hospital,” he told CTV News Channel on Saturday. “This also has an effect on our first responders, including our EMS and fire departments, as they’re responding to these calls in increasing numbers.”
One of those first responders is Scott Fox, who transports medical patients in the community. This week, Fox saw one of his cousins lose his life to drugs.
“We are a family (and) community-based people,” Fox told CTV Lethbridge. “And where we are today is, you know, families are broken.”
According to Melting Tallow, opioids are not the reserve’s only problem.
“We do have some emerging substances in our community such as methamphetamines,” he added. “And then, also alcohol is continuing to be prevalent in our community.”
Blood Tribe Emergency Services says it generally receives 25 to 30 opioid-related calls each month, but has already seen 39 overdoses in November.
In March, the community declared a local state of emergency when it experienced 30 overdoses in a single week, including one that was fatal. Those were also blamed on carfentanil.
Melting Tallow says officers have stepped up their policing efforts against traffickers, while educating the public about the dangers of opioids and focusing on harm reduction.
He added the community is looking to open a safe consumption area and a withdrawal management site in the near future. It is also asking the provincial and federal governments for help.
For the first time, the community’s only walk-in clinic is also being kept open over the weekend to give out naloxone kits, which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
Dr. Esther Tailfeathers is a physician who works at that clinic.
“We’re contacting our patients that we think may have relapsed and trying to get them in just for counselling and making sure that they’ve got their medication,” she told CTV Lethbridge.
But Tailfeathers, who has treated addicts as young as 14, worries about the effectiveness of naloxone in dealing with potent opioids like carfentanil.
“Our… in-home kits, they have three vials of naloxone,” she explained. “And the number of vials needed or the number of doses needed usually exceeds six or seven doses before they revive a patient.”
With a report from CTV Lethbridge’s Zayn Jinah and files from The Canadian Press