Province pledges $2.2 million for Blood Tribe opioid treatment facility

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.

The tribe has been facing a crisis as carfentanil — a synthetic opioid 100 times stronger than fentanyl — has flooded the streets of the reserve.

“Currently our EMS staff administer (the antidote) naloxone, take them to a local hospital but they are then quickly released,” said Kevin Cowan, chief executive officer of the Blood Tribe department of health told Postmedia in November.

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

Patients will then have the ability to utilize the Kanai Transition Society to support their recovery and transition back into society.

A resident of the Blood Reserve walks along a road near Standoff on Sept. 12, 2017.

“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 10-14 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.”

Between October and November there were a total of 94 overdoses on the reserve, 57 of which came last month. Carfentanil is so potent that one Blood Tribe paramedic service found four patients overdosing after having split just one tablet.

Minister of Health Sarah Hoffman said the government is proud to give this funding to the program.

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“The Blood Tribe has developed a community-based solution to help ease the current overdose crisis,” she said.

“We will continue to work with the Blood Tribe to ensure they have the support they need to provide treatment and care for people affected by substance use.”

The government has been helpful in the fight against the opioid crisis, Blood Tribe Chief Roy Fox said.

“Premier Notley, minister Hoffman and the Alberta Cabinet have been sincerely appreciative and helpful in combating the opioid crisis that has plagued our people over the last few years,” he said.

“We thank them for their continued involvement and providing additional resources towards the medical treatment centre that our Health Board, Department and Council have initiated. Many other departments, tribal members and others have worked collaboratively towards ending this drug problem and we thank them for their courage and commitment.”

zlaing@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @zjlaing

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