Blood Tribe to get $2.2M to tackle opioid crisis
Officials on the Blood Tribe reserve in southern Alberta have been calling for help from the provincial government as they face an unprecedented opioid crisis — and now that call has been answered.
The province announced Thursday the tribe will be given $2.2 million over two years for a program to help overdose patients into recovery. Under the program, Blood Tribe paramedics will have the option of transporting overdose patients directly to a treatment site where they can recover and receive resources and programs to help them get clean.
Kevin Cowan, chief executive of the Blood Tribe department of health, said the announcement left him “speechless” and believes the program will have a significant positive impact on the community.
“This will make a huge difference for us here — having those paramedics on 24-7 providing a service to people that simply weren’t getting that service,” he said.
The tribe has been facing a crisis as carfentanil — a synthetic opioid 100 times stronger than fentanyl — has flooded the reserve.
Cowan told Postmedia in November how EMS staff on the reserve are frequently using naloxone kits to reverse the effects of an overdose before bringing patients to hospital, only to have them “quickly released” before repeating “the same pattern and overdose again.”
“Bringing them to the hospital is not working for us, for the community,” he said.
Patients will then have the ability to use the Kanai Transition Society to support their recovery and transition back into society.
“We believe it’s the first time in Canada this has been done. We will have our EMS staff ... man a program 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Cowan said.
“They’ll be here to accept the calls. (Patients) will be kept for 10 to 14 days; our physicians will administer an opioid replacement like Suboxone and work with our addictions and mental health staff.”
Between October and November, there were 94 overdoses on the reserve, 57 of which came last month, and Cowan said there have been another six overdoses on the reserve in December.
Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said the government is proud to give this funding to the program.
“The Blood Tribe has developed a community-based solution to help ease the current overdose crisis,” she said.