While painkilling medicine has been around for a very long time, Fentanyl is a powerful addictive opioid painkiller, the use of which has caused an increasing public health threat in Canada and elsewhere. Fentanyl was initially approved in 1960 and used for the treatment of moderate to severe pain, especially cancer pain. However, recent years have seen a growing use of fentanyl and its analogs that are widely synthesized in laboratories and adulterated with illicit supplies of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and counterfeit pills, contributing to addiction and the exponential growth in the number of drug-related overdose deaths.

The southern Alberta community of Kainai First Nation has been hit very hard by the Fentanyl overdose crises and since 2014 in particular, hundreds in the community have died tragically. The speaker will describe the early circumstances of the crises and as well, more recent measures taken to mitigate the loss, which includes a harm reduction strategy, since conventional abstinence-based treatment has proved ineffective for saving lives. The strategy includes supervised consumption and the Blackfoot practice known as “kimmapiiyipitssini” – pronounced “GEE-maa-bee-bit-sin” meaning “giving kindness to each other”.

Speaker: Dr. Esther Tailfeathers

Dr. Esther Tailfeathers was born and raised on the Blood Tribe Kainai First Nation in southern Alberta. She graduated from the University of North Dakota, School of Medicine and completed her Family Medicine residency at the University of Alberta.

Esther has worked with many First Nations, among them, the Emergency Department on the Blackfeet Reservation (in Montana), the Blood Tribe Reserve for almost 20 years, and in the Northern Alberta community of Fort Chipewyan. She is most proud of organizing a relief mission to Haiti after the earthquake in 2010, leading a team made up of Blood Tribe paramedics, nurses and health care workers who took care of more than 2,000 patients during their relief efforts.

Most recently, Dr. Tailfeathers has focused on the Blood Tribe’s response to the opioid crisis including harm reduction and treatment, and addressing the upstream determinants of health. Dr. Tailfeathers is currently the Senior Medical Director, Provincial Indigenous Wellness Core, at Alberta Health Services.

Session Video

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