Indigenous experts share harm reduction strategies at first-of-its-kind forum in Calgary

Following dozens of opioid related overdoses and two states of emergency, the Blood Tribe’s chief and council have started looking for answers in their own backyard, and are now sharing their solutions with the broader Indigenous community.

Doctors and health care practitioners from across Canada gathered at a first-of-its-kind forum in Calgary focused on Indigenous harm reduction, to discuss the different strategies at work to combat addictions.

Rebecca Many Grey Horses, a health analyst with Blood Tribe Health, was there on Thursday to share where her nation is finding success.

Many Grey Horses spoke with users and recovering addicts, family members and health care staff to arrive at 24 recommendations, some of which are already at work on the Blood Tribe reserve.

One example is the community-based detox facility established earlier this year.

It was created in response to overwhelming feedback that nation members wanted a safe place to withdraw from the drugs, without having to leave their community.

“That has had a really positive impact on the community. The overdose rates are slowly going down, and the Blood Tribe Police have said something like even their petty crime rates are going down,” Many Grey Horses said.

The Blood Tribe is also hoping to create a single entry point into services to make it easier for people who are looking for help to get connected with the appropriate programs.

‘We have to work together’

Siksika Nation Coun. Reuben Breaker says tackling these issues requires Indigenous people to take initiative and cooperate with one another.

“We’ve got to be open and willing to try things that are working for other nations. It may work, it may not, but at least we tried. At least we shared that information,” Breaker said.

‘Everyone has a reason for addiction. We don’t question why the addiction; we question why the pain,’ says Coun. Reuben Breaker. (Rebecca Kelly/CBC)

For Siksika, the primary concern is a rise in heroin and meth addiction, he said.

“Those are the two that have really taken over on our nation,” she said.

“But it’s evident that no matter what drug is out there that’s killing our people, it’s things like this that we have to work together with other nations and share what they’re doing.”

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