Blood Tribe woman remembers 'beautiful soul' who died in recent spate of overdoses

A Blood Tribe woman who died of a drug overdose in Lethbridge on the weekend was a "sweet girl" and "beautiful soul" who had compassion, understanding and love for family, especially in their darkest times, her cousin says.

More than 50 people overdosed in Lethbridge area in little more than a week

Officials on the Blood Tribe in southern Alberta are trying to cope with a recent spike in the number of illicit drug overdoses on the reserve. (Brian Burnett/CBC)

A Blood Tribe woman was a "sweet girl" and "beautiful soul" who had compassion, understanding and love for family, especially in their darkest times, her cousin says.

The woman died of a drug overdose in Lethbridge on the weekend amid an unusual spike in overdoses. Police believe it was the result of a bad batch of drugs, perhaps carfentanil, triggering what one health official called "an absolute crisis."

The Blood Tribe mother leaves behind two children, aged nine and 10.

CBC News is choosing not to name the family to protect their privacy.

"I'm going to remember her as the sweet girl that she was," said the victim's cousin. "She took her time out of her life despite what she was going through to be there for us in our times of need."

The cousin said her own daughter and the victim left their home on the Blood Tribe for Lethbridge last weekend. On Friday night, she said her daughter overdosed after getting drugs from two men.

Paramedics arrived in time to revive her.

Lethbridge paramedics responded to 15 other overdoses that day, making it the worst day they have ever seen for these calls, according to Dana Terry, deputy chief of fire and EMS operations for the City of Lethbridge.

But the rash of calls wasn't over when the victim took drugs the next day — and died.

"Her aunty ran in there and her aunty turned her over and started doing CPR because she noticed her face were all blue," the cousin said. "They called 911. The paramedics got there, and they worked on her for a while before they could get a pulse…

"They brought her into the hospital. She never woke up again."

There have been more than 50 overdoses in the Lethbridge area in a little more than a week. At least two people have died.

Police haven't confirmed what's in the pills that have caused overdoses from Lethbridge to Cardston. The drugs are sold as so-called super beans on the Blood reserve and are believed to contain especially high doses of fentanyl or carfentanil.

"She took care of everyone. If we were hungry, she would cook. She was just a beautiful soul," the cousin said.

"I was like her mother, a best friend. She's very sweet. She helped my daughter with her baby because she's a mother herself.

More resources pledged

The Blood Tribe's chief and council met about the overdose crisis Monday night and vowed to devote more money and people to fighting it.

They expect to meet again on Friday in Lethbridge to identify specific steps they will take in the short and long term, said Chief Roy Fox.

The southern Alberta band faced a similar spike of overdoses in early 2015, when officials on the reserve and across the province realized the deadly street drug had become rooted in Alberta's illicit drug trade.

The Blood Tribe responded back then with a program of distributing naloxone kits — well before the opioid overdose-reversing medicine was widely available in the rest of Alberta — and established a crisis line and expanded access to addictions treatment, among other steps.

"This matter affects most families within our tribe both on the reserve and off the reserve, and we've been trying different things to combat it," Fox said, noting the band last spring implemented a trespassing bylaw to identify non-members who may be bringing drugs onto the reserve.

"This crisis has really brought out the determination of our people to work together to provide all that we can provide."

The cousin is urging her community not to sit idle following the death of the young mother, but to press for changes in an effort to abate the overdose crisis.

"I just want to be there for my daughter and get her as much help as I can for her," she said. "I want everyone to wake up and help... They got to get out there and help their families. Be with them. Use the resources. Get the chief and council to do something."