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Calgary South Asian group receives money to fight opioid crisis

Brandy Payne, Alberta's associate health minister, announces a funding grant for Punjabi Community Health Services in Calgary. Tim Lee / Global News

Alberta’s government is awarding Calgary-based Punjabi Community Health Services (PCHS) a $560,000 grant to provide the city’s South Asian population with increased access to opioid overdose treatment and support services.

The money will go toward providing access to opioid overdose reversal kits to community members, and the hiring of two new case members who speak a number of South Asian languages to work with PCHS. The mangers “will provide counselling and act as health navigators, linking people with treatment programs,” according to Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne.

“Ultimately we’re seeing the effects of the opioid crisis in communities across Calgary,” Payne said at Friday’s funding announcement.

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“In northeast Calgary, we’ve lost quite a number of people.”

Payne said there have been 25 opioid-related deaths this year in the northeast part of the city, where PCHS is located. Overall 170 people have died from fentanyl-related overdoses in all of Calgary so far this year.

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READ MORE: Calgary pharmacist charged after 33,000 opioid tablets stolen from Okotoks pharmacy

During Friday’s announcement, a number of officials from PCHS said the stigma around addiction continues to be a barrier in providing proper treatment.

“Counselling services are new in general to the community and there’s a lot of shame and stigma associated with it,” said Rupinder Hehar, a registered psychologist with PCHS, said.

“However since the start of PCHS in 2015, when we became operation, we’ve seen an increase from the community in wanting these services.”

READ MORE: 3 to 4 people die every day in Alberta from opioids: Calgary police chief

Hehar said PCHS has been seeing an increase in opioid-related addiction referrals over the past year, which prompted the group to pursue a specific program to treat those battling opioid addiction.

“One of the things that was wanted is to provide services that are culturally and linguistically appropriate, but also feasible and accessible,” Hehar said.

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