Skip to content

No further overdose deaths linked to 'toxic drugs' in Mînî Thnî last week

The update follows a week where the Nation saw at least three overdose deaths over two days, from May 3-4, prompting Nakoda Emergency Services (NES) and RCMP to issue a warning to the community.

ÎYÂRHE NAKODA – There have been no further overdose deaths in Mînî Thnî May 8-12 from a “toxic drug supply” circulating in the community, say local emergency services in Îyârhe Nakoda First Nation.

The update follows a week where the Nation saw at least three overdose deaths over two days – from May 3-4 – prompting Nakoda Emergency Services (NES) and RCMP to issue a warning to the community.

“The opioid crisis is affecting all of us,” said NES director Reg Fountain in an interview May 12. “The fact that we’re a small community – if it affects one [person], the impact is magnified. And we have not had any overdoses resulting in fatalities this week. Thank God.”

While there were no fatalities, Fountain said it is likely overdoses have continued to occur but were able to be treated at home. This is good news in the sense that the warning, which is still in place, emphasized the use of Narcan – medication to counteract opioid overdoses – has been ineffective in treating some recently requiring medical response. 

Chemical analysis details have yet to be released, but Fountain said those working behind the scenes believe xylazine, a powerful sedative used in veterinary medicine that is increasingly being found laced in other drugs, could be the cause. Since xylazine is not an opioid, it does not react to naloxone, though it is usually – unknowingly – mixed with them and can exaggerate effects commonly seen in opioid overdoses, such as respiratory depression and reduced heart rate.

Provincially, EMS response to opioid-related events is on the rise, according to Alberta substance use surveillance data. The latest available data is for the week of May 1, when there were 235 events which EMS responded to province-wide. The number is approaching record-breaking levels seen in November 2021, when there were 276 calls made in the last week of that month.  

Surveillance data also shows Calgary reached a record high last month, with 96 EMS responses to opioid-related events the week of April 24. That number dropped to 65 from May 1.

Alberta Health Services was unable to provide information regarding the number of opioid-related response calls in the Îyârhe Nakoda First Nation in recent weeks, and Stoney Health Services, the local health authority in Mînî Thnî, declined an interview request from the Outlook.

Darvette Lefthand, who is leading a grassroots movement to battle drug use within the Nation, said the situation has gone from bad to worse in recent weeks.

She said she’s been hearing mixed reports from community members, including two overdose deaths that may have also occurred in Eden Valley, about 90 kilometres south of Calgary. Other reports to the Outlook from community members say there could be as many as seven or more recent fatal overdoses across the First Nation, which also includes the community of Big Horn, about 275 km northwest of Mînî Thnî.

These numbers are significant, Lefthand said, considering the Nation’s population of only about 5,000 people in total.

“It is a small community and somehow, some way, we do all know each other,” said Lefthand. “Back in the teepee days, we were all about community. If one person was affected by something, we were all affected, and I believe that still exists today within the community.

“We’re losing daughters, sons, grandsons and granddaughters, aunties and nieces. We’re losing human beings, and these human beings are assets to our community.”

Lefthand said she has lost half the classmates she graduated high school with to either alcoholism or drugs, which is what prompted her and her late friend, Summer Twoyoungmen, to take a stand with their group Wácágâ ôkóná’gîcíyâ’bî (Battle Against Drugs in the Stoney Nakoda Nation).

The group has made repeated calls to Stoney Tribal Council to implement bylaws which would see known drug dealers evicted and banned from the reserve in an effort to protect community members.

Lefthand said she feels the drug epidemic has been swept under the rug in her community for too long. She said she is glad to see chiefs and council moving on some initiatives, including talks to implement such bylaws and creating an opioid task force, but she would like to see more from community leaders.

“Drug dealers are getting brave again, and they’re starting to come back onto the reserves,” she said. “They’re bringing it from Calgary into our communities and that’s very concerning to me.”

The Stoney Adult Wellness Centre, specializing in culturaly appropriate substance use treatment, is set to open in the fall, but Lefthand said the Nation needs more than treatment programs to address the root of the problem.

“There’s a lot of intergenerational trauma and healing that needs to happen because of that,” she said. “We’re gonna need to start peeling back the layers, and the more we peel away, the more intense it’s going to get. But as long as we do that, we can deal with it, and then we can start healing.”

Fountain, who has recently taken the lead of the Nation’s opioid task force, said they are working to “regenerate and reinvigorate the work that’s being done” within that group, having recently received provincial funding.

“We applied for and have been provided with a grant to develop an opioid task force working group, and to provide support mechanisms in the prevention and preparedness and recovery aspects,” he said.

“We’re looking at it through prevention, education, preparedness, and working with family groups, women’s groups, and bringing in subject matter experts to help us further the understanding of the impact of opioid use to individuals and families on the Nation.”

The grant covers two years and also includes support to establish programs that support the ongoing recovery of people who have substance abuse issues.

“We intend to actively increase our community engagement because that is where the rubber will hit the road, where we can see what we can do to support the community in prevention response, while reinforcing and assisting Stoney Health in its response actions,” said Fountain, who was unavailable to comment on any overdose response required as of May 15.

Stoney Nakoda RCMP said there are no further updates to share at this time regarding police response to the toxic drug supply, however, officers are actively working to track down drug dealers and prevent further importation in the community.

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. The position covers Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nation and Kananaskis Country.

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks