Blood Tribe detox centre offers hope in midst of opioid crisis
“We see a lot of injury in our people at a young age,” Dr. Tailfeathers observes, noting the strong link between trauma, mental health issues and resulting risky behavior and addictions, particularly in young people.
The Blood Tribe community has been battling the opioid crisis for several years, but the damage was devastating in 2018. An onslaught of carfentil (mixed with other drugs) – an opioid 100 times more potent than fentanyl – caused 34 overdoses and three deaths in October and November. Paramedics and other health care providers were stretched to the limit, recalls Dr. Tailfeathers. People were losing their friends, neighbors and loved ones to addiction, and children were losing parents.
Dr. Tailfeathers and Blood Tribe leaders developed their own harm reduction strategy based on creating a detox facility to support their community’s unique needs. “We knew that abstinence-based detox doesn’t work, because many of our people died trying it that way,” explains Dr. Tailfeathers, medical director of the clinic.
Bringing the Spirit Home Detox Centre
“Our first step was to save lives,” explains Dr. Tailfeathers. “So, we brought in naloxone kits, taught people how to use them and made them available to anyone who wanted them. We know it worked, because for three months after that training, we had no deaths.” Next steps involved introducing opioid replacement therapy and, in January 2019, opening a dedicated detox centre in the community.
The Bringing the Spirit Home Detox Centre is a safe withdrawal site, staffed 24/7, providing patients with seven to 21 days of detox. The centre’s 20-24 patients are treated with medically managed opiate replacement therapy.
“It’s been incredibly successful,” says Dr. Tailfeathers, adding the centre’s 100-person waiting list includes patients from northern Alberta and Montana. “We’ve built a pretty strong reputation in a short amount of time, but our biggest success is what we’ve been able to do for our patients and their families.”
Beyond detox: Strengthening families
As part of addiction recovery, the community helps connect patients to the resources and supports they need to stay clean. “We help addicts access education, employment and housing services, and improve their parenting skills so that they can strengthen their families,” says Dr. Tailfeathers. “Those social determinants of health are essential to their recovery.”
Although the opioid epidemic is far from over, the Blood Tribe community is fighting it together.
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About Community Connections
The AMA knows that many Alberta physicians are involved in helping to build healthier, stronger communities in Canada and throughout the world. These physicians are going ‘above and beyond’ to make a difference as they advocate on behalf of their patients and their communities, with an unwavering commitment to improving peoples' lives, whether individuals, community groups or entire populations. With AMA’s Community Connections, we want to celebrate and share the inspiring stories of these dedicated physicians.
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