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Number of opioid deaths rising among Indigenous people; Lethbridge sees high use rates

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WATCH ABOVE: A new report from the Alberta government that examines the opioid crisis is painting a startling picture for Indigenous people, in particular in southern Alberta. As Erik Bay tells us, it’s no surprise to those on the front lines, and relief may still take time to arrive – Jun 22, 2021

The province’s latest Opioid Response Surveillance Report shows opioid deaths among Alberta’s Indigenous population are skyrocketing.

In 2019, 116 Indigenous people in the province died from an opioid overdose.

Six months into 2020, that number was already at 94.

Read more: ‘We are tired of losing our loved ones to the drugs’: Blood Tribe members hold rally raising concerns over detox centre

It’s an increase Indigenous recovery coach Garrett Standing Alone is witnessing firsthand.

“Our referrals are starting to come in and gain momentum,” Standing Alone said. “People are starting to seek us out more.”

The report finds Lethbridge and the surrounding South zone have two of the highest rates of opioid use among Indigenous people in the province, while Indigenous opioid deaths outnumber non-Indigenous deaths in the city 13 to 10.

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Read more: Blood Tribe killer: How the drug crisis exploded on the southern Alberta First Nation

Indigenous recovery coach Joey Blood attributes the increase to a need for more addiction supports in the city.

“(A) lack of commitment to helping combat the opioid problem and it’s something people are so quick to want to put a Band-Aid over it and be over with,” Blood said.

Those supports have been delayed.

Two addictions recovery communities, one in Lethbridge County and another on the Blood Tribe, were slated to open in the first half of this year.

Read more: Alberta announces $10M for addiction recovery communities in Lethbridge County, Blood Tribe First Nation

But since the announcement in July 2020, both projects have yet to break ground.

A statement from the ministry of mental health and addictions read: “Planning work continues for both the Lethbridge Recovery Community and the Blood Tribe First Nation Recovery Community. Information will be shared when details are finalized.”

The province added it is confident the mobile overdose prevention site, which replaced the supervised consumption site in August 2020, is meeting demand, but Blood said it doesn’t fill the hole the ARCHES site left behind.

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Read more: ARCHES to cease supervised consumption services on Aug. 31

“There was a lot of roundabout services, so I think that’s what made it more inviting for our people,” Blood said.

In the same statement, the ministry added the province will “continue to work with Indigenous communities to ensure the best treatment and recovery supports.”

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