Rash of fentanyl-related deaths in Edmonton’s South Asian community prompts education seminar

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WATCH: Members of Edmonton's South Asian Community take a stand in the fight against Fentanyl. Julia Wong reports – Dec 11, 2016

Medical and political representatives gathered Sunday morning to spread awareness and education within Edmonton’s South Asian community about the province’s fentanyl crisis.

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Councillor Moe Banga and Harpreet Gill, the executive director of Singh Sabha Sikh Temple, organized a seminar on fentanyl: what it is, the current crisis and the resources available for residents at the Mill Woods Sikh Temple. A similar one was held a few weeks ago at the Singh Sabha Sikh Temple.

READ MORE: Alberta considers radical new approach to battling fentanyl

“We want to make sure people at least know the problem… what their options are and how we can help them out,” Banga said.

Community members say there have been more than 10 deaths within the city’s South Asian community from fentanyl and fentanyl overdoses within the last few months but there has been little discussion about the drug and the current crisis.

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“It is hitting really close to home for a lot of people. We want to make sure we do everything that’s possible to do so we can help most of the people,” Banga said.

READ MORE: 29 Alberta clinics now offer naloxone kits for fentanyl overdose treatment

Banga said the reason behind the seminar is to break the taboo of talking about drugs and drug problems.

“In religions settings, it’s not pretty common to talk about drugs. But the society is changing and so is the role of political, social and religious organizations – to make sure we bring it to the attention of people,” Banga said.

“If we don’t talk about it, obviously these things stay hidden, it’s hard for us to join all together and find a solution for it.”

WATCH: Alberta Mountie, woman save man overdosing on fentanyl in moving pickup truck

There were representatives from all three levels of government at the seminar, which was held after regular services at the temple: MLA Christina Gray, MP Amarjeet Sohi and Councillor Banga.

The seminar was held predominantly in Punjabi, to cater to attendees, with some speeches in English.

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MP Amarjeet Sohi listens to the seminar held at the Mill Woods Sikh Temple. Julia Wong/Global News
NDP MLA Christina Gray and Councillor Moe Banga spoke at the seminar. Julia Wong/Global News
Julia Wong/Global News

“Our focus is to bring more and more awareness through all the religious places where the people are gathering in the hundreds and thousands every week,” said Kamal Panesar, general secretary for the Mill Woods Sikh Temple.

He said the rash of recent deaths has left the community speechless.

READ MORE: Edmonton-area support group helping parents dealing with drug-addicted children

Donna Wilson, a nursing professor at the University of Alberta, said there are some reasons the South Asian community may benefit from increased education on this issue.

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“Anytime a community maybe doesn’t speak English – compared to if you were born in Canada – anytime perhaps someone is a new immigrant and maybe doesn’t have the resources to purchase a newspaper, you may… not hear about how serious a problem we have with fentanyl and with all of the opioids in Canada,” she said.

However, she said it isn’t just the South Asian community that is vulnerable.

“Certainly the Sikh community is at risk, but every other community in Alberta is at risk too,” Wilson said.

“If you don’t know what the issues are, they won’t be looking for solutions,” Gill added.

“Our community is suffering from fentanyl and other addiction issues – the education isn’t there, how to deal with the issues.”

Gill said the seminars seem to be generating more discussion about the fentanyl crisis and while a third seminar has not been scheduled, there is the possibility of organizing more talks.

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