The need for more beds and more funding to help fight the drug epidemic in Alberta is constantly a topic of concern, with recent numbers showing an alarming rate of overdosing across the province.

Opioid deaths are on the rise in Alberta, with the province seeing 179 fatalities in the month of April alone, according to Health Analytics Alberta.

As a result, treaty seven territory – Tsuut’ina Nation – will be receiving up to $30 million in capital funding from the provincial government for the construction of a new addictions recovery community with 75 beds and an annual capacity of 300 patients.

A memorandum of understanding was signed by Premier Danielle Smith, Chief Roy Whitney and Minister of health and addictions, Dan Williams, on Wednesday for the new development.

However, the new Tsuut’ina recovery community will not be the only one built across the province as the provincial government has announced 11 total locations will receive funding in due course.

Both the Blood Tribe and Lethbridge are on the list to erect a new recovery community, with the government announcing it has partnered with the Blood Tribe, Enoch Cree and Tsuut’ina nations.

The premier says it is important to give all Albertans a safe place to recover from drug addiction, no matter who they are.

“Everyone deserves the opportunity to heal and recover from the illness of addiction,” said Smith on in a press conference at the Chief Joseph Big Plume Building in Tsuut’ina. “This includes Indigenous people living in Alberta.”

Smith says the importance of working with Indigenous leaders is paramount to the success of any program on First Nations land.

“While more supports and services are clearly needed, we believe meaningful progress can only be achieved with the guidance and leadership of First Nations communities,” said Smith.

Meanwhile, she says the federal government is failing Albertan Indigenous people, but the provincial government will step up and fill those roles as required.

“Unfortunately, over the past four years, we’ve seen the federal government abdicate its responsibility in this area,” said Smith. “They’ve significantly decreased federal support to Indigenous communities for both addiction and healthcare.”

Even so, Smith says this new recovery community will provide support for even more people to get help while potentially rewriting the book in the process.

“I’m confident that this partnership between our two governments will change the way addiction treatment is provided,” said Smith.

Williams says, while addiction is a problem for the province as a whole, the Indigenous communities are in the greatest need for immediate support.

“The addiction crisis has touched all corners of this province, but First Nations and Indigenous communities have been hit particularly hard,” said Williams. 

He says this is not the first recovery community, nor is it the last.

“This is the third, with more to come, of our recovery centres that are being located on First Nations territory,” said Williams.

Echoing the Premier, Williams says the Alberta government will “not wait for the federal government” and they will support those struggling with addiction immediately.

“We are going to make it our goal that every single Albertan has access to treatment,” said Williams. “No matter who they are or where they come from.”

Furthermore, he says the recovery communities will offer holistic and long-term treatment for patients.

“They can stay for up to one year at this facility and we’re hoping that we’ll have this underway in early 2024,” said Williams.

He says these recovery communities will create a safer province for everyone, including those suffering from addiction.

“We are committed to keeping our communities safe and supporting those who are most vulnerable,” said Williams.

Chief Whitney says the announcement of the recovery community holding a whopping 75 beds is more than welcome to those in Tsuut’ina.

“It was (surprising) and happy to hear that it’s a 75-bed unit,” said Whitney.

He says the drug crisis is only becoming worse and worse as time goes on.

“The reality and severity of drug abuse is changing,” said Whitney. “… These drugs are coming after our young people.”

Whitney says he agrees with the UCP approach to fighting the drug problem, though he accepts others may feel differently.

“It’s time for solutions,” said Whitney. “Of course, there will be differences of opinion for how to manage the growing drug abuse problem in Alberta, but weighing in on those solutions, I stand with the Premier and her cabinet on the track that they are creating.”

Furthermore, he believes the answer to solving this problem is not by providing drugs in a ‘safe’ environment for those with addiction issues.

“How can a solution of drug abuse be more, and cheaper drugs handed out by government? That is not a solution, that is just helping addicts die faster.”

He says the Tsuut’ina government is committed to supporting their people through love, support and guidance.

Construction is set to begin on the Tsuut’ina recovery community in 2024 and there is no date yet announced for ground to break in Lethbridge or the Blood Tribe.

By Justin Sibbet, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 07, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Lethbridge Herald    Lethbridge, Alberta

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