An opi­oid 100 times more deadly than fen­tanyl cuts a swath through Blood Tribe

Fort McMurray Today - - ALBERTA NEWS - ZACH LAING [email protected]­media.com

A south­ern Al­berta Indige­nous com­mu­nity has been left reel­ing af­ter car­fen­tanil — an opi­oid 100 times more po­tent than fen­tanyl — has claimed the lives of four peo­ple and caused over­doses in nearly 47 oth­ers this month.

The num­bers have stayed steady over the year on the Blood Tribe re­serve, but have spiked in the past two months, Kevin Cowan, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the Blood Tribe De­part­ment of Health said.

“This has been a tough year for the Blood Tribe … but the prob­lem is es­ca­lat­ing,” he said.

“In Oc­to­ber, there were 37 over­doses at­tended to by our emer­gency ser­vices. There was one death.

“If this was three or four years ago, there would’ve been 47 deaths this month, not 47 over­doses.”

A state of emer­gency was de­clared for the Blood Tribe af­ter 36 opi­oid over­doses and one death oc­curred between Feb. 23 and March 25 this year, Cowan said.

Since then, Cowan said, they have av­er­aged roughly 20 over­doses per month. Just last week, 22 peo­ple suf­fered over­doses between Tues­day and Thurs­day alone.

Cowan said the three am­bu­lance crews have been over­whelmed by the rise in over­doses, and one crew found four over­dose pa­tients who split one tablet.

All the de­part­ments on the re­serve have come to­gether, Cowan said, and as­sem­bled a plan of ac­tion to at­tack the cri­sis cen­tred around a fund­ing re­quest for a safe with­drawal man­age­ment site.

How­ever, Cowan said they’re al­ready mov­ing for­ward with the plan.

“Cur­rently our EMS staff ad­min­is­ter (opi­oid over­dose an­ti­dote) Nalox­one, take them to a lo­cal hos­pi­tal but they are then quickly re­leased,” he said.

“Typ­i­cally, they en­ter the same pat­tern and over­dose again. Bring­ing them to the hos­pi­tal is not work­ing for us, for the com­mu­nity.”

The Blood Tribe Po­lice Ser­vice along with Cal­gary po­lice and RCMP seized 202 sus­pected car­fen­tanil pills, with an es­ti­mated street value of over $16,000 in July 2018.

The new plan will see EMS staff take over­dose pa­tients di­rectly to the tran­si­tion pro­gram.

“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,” he said.

“They’ll be here to ac­cept the calls. (Pa­tients) will be kept for 10-14 days, our physi­cians will ad­min­is­ter an opi­oid re­place­ment like Subox­one and work with our ad­dic­tions and men­tal health staff.

“Hope­fully then, we can move them onto a tran­si­tion so­ci­ety.”

A doc­tor on the re­serve, Es­ther Tail­feath­ers, said car­fen­tanil is be­ing mixed in with other drugs and sold on the streets.

“We thought we stopped see­ing a spike in over­doses on Sun­day, but ap­par­ently there have been a few over­doses to­day,” said Tail­feath­ers on Tues­day af­ter­noon, adding there’s been a surge in crys­tal meth us­age.

“It’s been a rough two weeks. Ev­ery­one is tired. All of the front­line work­ers are re­ally tired, EMS, po­lice. Even our emer­gency room in Card­ston has seen an es­ca­lat­ing num­ber of over­doses.

“We’re deal­ing with a lot of grief on our re­serve. We’ve got a num­ber of kids that have been taken into the child wel­fare sys­tem be­cause their par­ents have died.”

Of­fi­cials on the re­serve have been go­ing door-to-door with Nalox­one kits to give to res­i­dents and when it comes to car­fen­tanil over­doses, Tail­feath­ers said they need more and more to curb the ef­fects.

“Usu­ally, the Nalox­one kits have three vials of 0.4 (mg/ml) of Nalox­one in the vials, but it has been tak­ing six to eight vials of Nalox­one to re­vive some pa­tients,” Tail­feath­ers said, adding the pow­er­ful car­fen­tanil re­quires more of the over­dose an­ti­dote.

The re­serve is ex­pect­ing an­other spike in over­doses on the week­end of Dec. 14, Tail­feath­ers said, due in part to res­i­dents re­ceiv­ing so­cial as­sis­tance and tribe pay­ments that week — an un­for­tu­nate cor­re­la­tion they have be­gun to iden­tify.

“We’re rec­og­niz­ing when there is money in the com­mu­nity, deal­ers know that as well and they swoop into the com­mu­nity,” she said.

“They bring the re­ally po­tent stuff in and they’re out of the com­mu­nity in hours. We start see­ing over­doses al­most im­me­di­ately. Usu­ally, mid­dle of the month is so­cial as­sis­tance (pay­ment) day and we are ex­pect­ing tribal distri­bu­tion of $100 per per­son on Dec. 13.

“We know by now our spikes in over­doses are di­rectly re­lated to money in the com­mu­nity.”

At the end of the day, Tail­feath­ers said the re­serve needs help.

“We’re call­ing on peo­ple and physi­cians off-re­serve to help this cri­sis,” she said.

“I think the prov­ince needs to look at widen­ing the scope of treat­ment pro­grams.”

Re­quest for com­ment from the Blood Tribe Po­lice Ser­vice was not im­me­di­ately re­turned.

PHO­TOS BY GAVIN YOUNG/POST­MEDIA NET­WORK

St. Cather­ines Catholic Church and the St. Cather­ines Ceme­tery near Stand­off Al­berta were pho­tographed on Wed­nes­day March 25, 2015.

Dr. Es­ther Tail­feath­ers, a doc­tor on the Blood Re­serve in South­ern Al­berta, looks out a win­dow in the Stand­off Health Clinic on Mon­day Fe­bru­ary 27, 2017.

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