EDMONTON - A new report says the rising number of opioid overdoses in Alberta is disproportionately affecting Indigenous people, including more deaths and visits to emergency rooms.
Alberta Health says Indigenous people have been dying from accidental opioid overdoses at a rate three times higher than non-Aboriginal people.
The rate of hospital visits is also greater. Calls to emergency medical responders for opioid-related problems are 12 times higher in Calgary and seven times higher in Edmonton.
Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne says the findings show more must be done to help Indigenous people deal with the opioid crisis.
"Reducing the harm associated with both street and prescription opioids experienced by Indigenous communities, both on and off reserve, is an urgent priority," Payne told The Canadian Press Wednesday.
"This report provides really valuable information to help guide our response and we will be working with First Nations to meet their needs."
The report says 87 Indigenous people died in Alberta from opioids, including fentanyl, last year and in the first three months of this year. That compares with 614 deaths among non-Aboriginal people during the same period.
Indigenous people make up about six per cent of Alberta's population.
Almost half of Indigenous opioid deaths were in the Calgary region, a quarter were in greater Edmonton and the rest were spread around the province.
Alberta is opening safe opioid consumption sites in Calgary, Edmonton and Lethbridge. The sites have been approved by Health Canada to help reduce overdoses.
The province expects to receive recommendations from its opioid task force later this month on whether it should seek to open similar sites in smaller communities, including Grande Prairie, Fort McMurray, Red Deer, Medicine Hat and Edson.
"We know that supervised consumption services save lives," Payne said.
"The next step would be community consultations in a city or town that is looking at setting up supervised consumption."
Earlier this month, the province announced it is expanding the public distribution of naloxone kits. The medication can quickly reverse the effects of an overdose from opioids such as fentanyl, heroin, methadone and morphine.
Alberta's "take-home'' naloxone program is aimed at people who are more likely to have or witness an overdose. As of the end of September, almost 31,000 kits had been distributed.
Payne said Indigenous people have asked for the kits and can use other services such drug treatment programs and a health information phone line.
The government is working with First Nations to develop programs than can best meet their particular needs, she added.