Opioid stats coming into focus, but impact on Indigenous communities largely unknown – Politics

The parking lot at the gas station on this New Brunswick reserve is empty except for a lone man sitting on a bench, sipping a can of iced tea and finishing his cigarette.

We’re calling him Stephen, which is not his real name. And we’re not saying the name of the reserve where we’ve agreed to meet on an unexpectedly hot September day.

That’s because what he’s telling us about is the illicit opioids he sells to residents here.

“These people are going to keep coming back, keep coming back and no matter what,” he said. “It’s also impossible to get off [opioids] without medical help. Like, you can’t just do it cold-turkey — the withdrawals are so intense.”

Stephen says the deadly opioid fentanyl has made its way to New Brunswick, primarily Moncton. 

He claims he hasn’t cut fentanyl into the drugs he sells, even if it would increase profits.

Health Canada confirmed a blue pill seized by the RCMP on the Esgenoôpetitj First Nation earlier this year contained fentanyl, following an overdose death on the reserve. Canada does not have data on opioid overdoses in Indigenous communities. (RCMP)

He says the drug is at its most dangerous when it first arrives in a community.

“All depends on who is cutting it and how good they are at cutting it,” he says. “And apparently fentanyl is hard to cut — it comes in like a gel from a patch. The danger and the threat of a bad batch coming out would be higher.”

Few opioid stats on Indigenous communities

The extent of the opioid crisis sweeping Canada has been hard for researchers to quantify.

It’s been especially hard to get any data on Indigenous communities, which experts say are among the hardest-hit.

The delivery of health care for status Indians is largely the responsibility of the federal government, but neither Health Canada nor the Indigenous Affairs Department track opioid overdoses on reserves.

A new report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information released this week was…

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