January 23rd, 2021

Fentanyl issue gets federal attention

By Nick Kuhl on July 9, 2016.

Health minister meets with Blood Tribe council

J.W. Schnarr
Lethbridge Herald

Canada’s federal health minister heard about the successes and struggles of fentanyl addiction on Blood Tribe lands during an open meeting with council in Stand Off on Friday.

The event included presentations from those fighting the drug at the ground level, including health care providers, police and even some former addicts who talked openly about addiction and their road to recover.
Jane Philpott said she was impressed with the work the community has done, and said there is still much to do.

“It’s a devastating challenge,” she said. She was further impressed by the determination and professionalism from the leaders in the community.

“There’s much more to be done, but I think they are in a very good situation and will, in fact, be leaders in our country, and perhaps even beyond our country in terms of the very effective mechanisms that have been put in place here.”

Philpott said the federal government has an important role to play in the battle against the opioid crisis, including raising awareness, working with prescribers and providers to provide them with the tools they need, and address issues of access to opioids, including mechanisms for treatment and harm reduction.

Sgt. Drew Kanyo of the Blood Tribe Police Service told those in attendance the efforts to curb drug use on the Blood Tribe is in need of funding and expansion. A dedicated K-9 officer with a drug-sniffing dog would go a long way toward helping ebb the flow of drugs into the community.

He noted the BTPS drug unit has laid more than 400 charges since it started, and that the introduction of fentanyl in 2014 has seen a spike in all reportable crimes. Between 2013 and 2014, trafficking charges went up 150 per cent. Between 2014 and 2015, they went up another 193 per cent.

“That’s a 340 per cent rise since 2013,” he said.
Possession has gone up 25 per cent in 2013-2014, and then 146 per cent in 2014-2015. Theft and possession of stolen property, a main way for addicts to fund their habits, went up 160 per cent in 2013-2014, and 754 per cent in 2014-2015 — a total of 914 per cent in two years.

Fraud, another way addicts fund their habits, has seen increases of 275 per cent in 2013-2014, and 318 per cent in 2014-2015 for a two-year increase of 593 per cent.

“With the rising crime trend, BTPS, and all the agencies involved in the community, have been taxed with this extra workload with no additional resources at our disposal,” he said. “We have been struggling with this trend and would benefit greatly with additional resources.”

Philpott said the most impactful voices she heard on Friday came from the those who had overcome their opioid addictions.

Titus Aragon was one of those voices. The 22-year-old battled fentanyl addiction for 10 months and said when he first started, he was unaware of what fentanyl was. He was told he was taking oxycodone.

“We were all being told it was oxy 80,” he said (oxycodone in 80 mg doses). “By the time I tried to quit, it was too late. I was addicted. I felt like I had a disease, and this was my daily medicine.”

Aragon has been on a Suboxone program for eight months and is hoping to be done within the year.

“It’s been one of the best choices I ever made,” he said.

Suboxone is a popular treatment for opioid addiction and is a mixture of naloxone and buprenorphine, an opioid medication meant to assist with the symptoms of withdrawal.

Argon said now that he is off fentanyl, he wants to help others in his community who are facing similar challenges in their lives.

“I want to show the younger generation that there is a way out,” he said. “We can overcome this problem, and I am living proof of that.”

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