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Alberta First Nations opioid death numbers ‘heartbreaking’

Recently released data by Alberta’s government shows First Nations Peoples make up a disproportionate number of the province’s opioid-related deaths.

That includes people in Jody Plaineagle’s family.

“I had an uncle who lost his daughter to the addiction,” Plaineagle tells Global News.

Across Alberta, provincial government numbers show the rate of unintentional opioid deaths is more than eight times higher among First Nations Peoples.

“They’re fighting for their lives right now,” Plaineagle said. “They’re out there in survival mode trying to fight for their life.”

According to Indigenous Services Canada, just 6.5 per cent of Albertans are Indigenous. Around half of that, or 3.4 per cent of Albertans are First Nations Peoples.

That demographic represented 20 per cent of all unintentional opioid deaths between 2016 and 2022, according to the province’s Alberta Opioid Response Surveillance Report: First Nations People in Alberta report.

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In 2022 alone, that number went up to nearly one in four deaths.

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“It’s very disheartening to see the disparity growing and not getting less,” Dr. Esther Tailfeathers said. “That tells us there is not an adequate response.”

Tailfeathers has been on the frontlines of the opioid fight.

Born and raised on the Blood Tribe, she’s seen firsthand the impact of these drugs.

“Our communities are suffering and my heart goes out to the mothers and the families who’ve lost people,” Tailfeathers said.

“These numbers mean something to us.”

She wants more wraparound supports for people dealing with addiction.

“In our government’s interactions with Indigenous leaders, they ask for support in building out capacity for treatment and recovery,” a statement from mental health and addiction ministry press secretary Hunter Baril reads in part.

“Our government is investing more than $180 million to support the building of five recovery communities in partnership with Indigenous communities. Each of these facilities will take a land-based approach and support people in their pursuit of recovery and reconnection with their community, family, and culture.”

The province says it’s also hoping the federal government expands investments for First Nations treatment in Alberta and across Canada.

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Tailfeathers fears support will come too late.

With 2022 numbers just made public, she’s worried about what’s going on right now.

“We’re not able to react and respond to what’s happening,” Tailfeathers said.

Making it harder to reverse this concerning trend.

&© 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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