Stoney Nakoda drug problem sensationalized, says First Nations leader

The acting tribal administrator for the Stoney band says statistics reported in several media outlets this week about rampant drug abuse on the reserve are sensationalized.

CFO of the Stoney band disputes media reports saying addiction rates as high as 60% among adult population

Eden Valley is one of the reserves in the Stoney Nakoda First Nation. (Allison Dempster/CBC)

A leader of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation says reports of rampant drug abuse and deaths on the reserve are inaccurate and sensational.

Media stories earlier this week suggested a state of emergency had been declared on the Nation and that prescription drug addiction rates among the adult population were as high as 60 per cent.

"That's ridiculous. Our best guess would probably be 15 per cent maybe 20 [per cent]. But that's typically what you'd see in a low income population, I'd suspect," said Ken Christensen, chief financial officer and acting tribal administrator for the Stoney band.

Speaking on the Calgary Eyeopener Thursday morning, Christensen said there is "absolutely" a drug addiction problem on Stoney's three reserves — but says the same could be said about other reserves and "the province as a whole."

"I used to be the executive director of a drug and alcohol treatment centre and the rule of thumb in the addiction business is about 10 per cent of the population would be addicted to something."

The population of the Morley, Bighorn and Eden Valley reserves is about 5,100.

Christensen said there is about "one death a week" on the Nation, but they are not all caused by drug overdose.

"It's gone up in recent years because of an increase in population on the reserves."

According to the latest numbers from Statistics Canada, the aboriginal population across the country is growing. 

Ken Christensen, the acting tribal administrator for the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, talks about drug addiction issues in his community.

On July 7, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott met with Treaty 7 chiefs to discuss a variety of health issues that are facing reserves.

Christensen said he and other leaders from the Stoney Nation also met with provincial government representatives to discuss addiction on the reserves.

He said some of the ideas floated were a medical program to deal with opioid addictions and training people on how to properly use Naloxone kits.

"The problem with fentanyl is you use it once and it can be the last time you can use it."

Alberta's health minister says the province has a four-prong approach to the problem.

"It is a big concern," Sarah Hoffman told CBC's The Homestretch on Thursday.

"Making naloxone widely available … expanding access to opioid replacements to help stabilize people, methadone and Suboxone being examples of that. Detox, counselling and public awareness and education. Those are all important pieces."

She said there aren't any easy fixes.

"Raising awareness about how deadly and toxic these drugs can be and how addictive they are at the same time. It's complicated. If we can get at the root of the problem before it's an issue, that's ideally the best situation," Hoffman said.