Kainai Healing Lodge transforms into safe withdrawal site over holidays

Kainai Healing Lodge will offer a safe space and 24-hour beds over the holidays on Blood Reserve

Safe facility open 24 hours each day through Jan. 5

The St. Paul Treatment Centre/Kainai Healing Lodge in Cardston, Alta. (St. Paul Treatment Centre/Kainai Healing Lodge/Facebook)

The opioid crisis has caused the Kainai Healing Lodge to open its doors around the clock over the holidays as a safe withdrawal site.

"We're supporting Indigenous clients suffering from severe withdrawal from substance use — in particular opioids," consultant Shauna Fox said.

"Our priority is [to focus on] individuals that have experienced an overdose of opioids and that have been hospitalized or treated at the hospital emergency unit, then are brought out to our facility."

The move marks a temporary shift — in effect through Jan. 5 — for the healing lodge, which traditionally offers long-term treatment, Fox said.

"We are typically a treatment centre, but at this time we don't run programming through the holidays — so as a response we've opened up our doors and it's very safe," Fox said.

"We are in a semi locked-down state, so only authorized personnel are allowed in on the grounds.

"We're not getting anyone that may be at risk coming in to either cause a disturbance or enabling the ones that are withdrawing."

The site will be overseen by Kainai Nation members Dr. Esther Tailfeathers and opioid clinic nurse Lianne Johnson Healy.

Polysubstance abuse

While opioids are not typically treated through detox, many people are addicted to other drugs that are, Fox said.

"What we're seeing is polysubstance abuse, so that's what we actually are revamping our programs to address," she said.

"If they can't get their drug of choice — for instance someone that's on fentanyl — they will then turn to alcohol or crack cocaine or other substances," she added.

Dr. Esther Tailfeathers will be overseeing the safe withdrawal site. (Courtesy of Dr. Esther Tailfeathers)

The objective is to provide a safe space for people already undergoing withdrawal, with the possibility of entering into long-term treatment beginning in January, Fox said.

"Our framework provides observation and supervised treatment designed to assist individuals withdrawing from substance misuse — as well as a safe and controlled culturally appropriate environment," Fox said.

Holiday relapses

The brunt of patients are people discharged from rehab who are vulnerable to relapsing over the holidays, she said.

"We are getting a number of overdoses that are going to hospital and [others] just released from hospital back into their unsafe environment. And to provide a regulated, structured program as needed," she said.

The 10-bed facility offers a five week long treatment program beginning Jan. 7, with an eye toward transitioning some of the present patients into that.

"When they are ready, we offer one-to-one counselling, [and also] we have a resident elder," Fox said.

"We do the withdrawal management. We also do the assessment, we engage with our other entities, our Blood Tribe wellness and we do some discharge planning and referring."

According to Fox, approximately 8,000 naloxone kits have been distributed to households in the area.

With files from Reid Southwick