STANDOFF, AB – The closure of Lethbridge’s Supervised Consumption Site led to nearly 100 deaths of Blood Tribe members in the months that followed.
That, from Dr. Esther Tailfeathers who is the Senior Medical Director of the Provincial Indigenous Wellness Core at Alberta Health Services.
She told a Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs (SACPA) audience this week that after the SCS closed down in August of 2020, 91 Blood Tribe members died.
Tailfeathers says they had no safe places to go and that “many of them were found in back alleys behind houses or in basements alone.”
Tailfeathers says the 91 deaths involved drug and alcohol overdoses as well as suicide.
It’s no secret the Kainai First Nation has been hit hard by the opioid crisis with hundreds of members dying of overdoses since 2014. Tailfeathers though, says there were more deaths after the SCS closure than at the start of the crisis.
Harm reduction and empathy are now being used as the main pillars to help battle drug dependency on the Blood Reserve.
Tailfeathers says when the opioid crisis first hit, AHS opened up treatment beds for Blood Tribe members but the abstinence-based programs proved to be ineffective.
She says many weren’t withdrawn enough to complete the program and returned to the reserve where they continued to use. That led to more overdoses and deaths.
Now, Tailfeathers says the approach has been one of harm-reduction and supervised consumption as well as the Blackfoot practice known as “kimmapiiyipitssini” which means “Giving Kindness to each other.”
The Blood Tribe also has it’s own medical detox centre.
An Addictions Recovery Community for the Blood Tribe, with a $5 million price-tag, was also announced by the Alberta Government last summer though the province says planning work on that project continues.