For many individuals, overcoming a drug addiction is no easy task. Trying to overcome that addiction while pregnant, is a much different situation.
“I’ve been here roughly 40 days,” said Katherine Holy White Man, a patient at the Blood Tribe detox centre in Standoff, Alta. “I’ll be here until I have my baby.”
Holy White Man is scheduled to have her baby by the end of July.
While she goes through the regular steps as any expecting mother would, her case is different — she is one of several guests also trying to detox from her drug addiction.
“From the liquor store, I got into the meth. … I ended up experimenting with needles, and from there I jumped from the meth to the heroin mixed with the carfentanyl,” Holy White Man explained.
It was at that point Holy White Man’s addiction came up against the realities of impending motherhood. At the centre, she receives treatment, alongside regular checkups on her unborn baby.
“We offer them a safe place, we stabilize them and work on getting them into treatments. Our community is working really hard on building a full spectrum of services for our people who are addicted,” said Dr. Esther Tailfeathers, head physician at the detox centre.
Holy White Man has a new motivation in life now, but many of those around her doubted whether she could overcome her addiction and carry a child.
“A lot of people suggested an abortion. I was actually scheduled for an abortion last time I was here. … But when they described how they’ll be pulling my son out, and I’d be responsible for the remains and either giving him a funeral or a cremation, … I just didn’t have the heart to do that, so I backed out of the surgery, … figured I’d give him a chance at life,” she said.
Her former high-risk lifestyle jeopardized her own life and that of her unborn baby. Carfentanyl is an opioid so strong that it is used to tranquillize elephants. Tailfeathers said taking enough fentanyl will slow down breathing and stop the breathing in the brainstem.
“That’s what happens if it’s strong enough. It will cause them to stop breathing.”
The powerful drug has another cruel side effect: it is dangerously addictive.
“Their body develops higher levels of pain receptors … so they feel the need to get more and more because each time they withdraw, their pain levels go higher and higher. So their need for higher doses of opioids grows with their use,” Tailfeathers added.
That’s the science, but Holy White Man faced the reality of opioids head-on.
“When you’re not thinking about it, you’re doing it. When you’re not doing it, you’re running out. When you’re running out, you’re thinking of how you’re going to get your next … and it’s just no way to live,” Holy White Man said.
It’s no way to live, but it’s a place many addicts find themselves stuck. With the detox centre well beyond capacity in the battle to save lives, many on the Blood Reserve and across the province are still waiting for treatment.
Watch below: The Blood Tribe reserve in southern Alberta saw 34 overdoses, resulting in three fatalities, in 21 days in November 2018.
In the third and final part of our Blood Tribe Killer series, coming Wednesday, we hear from a former drug user who is now working to help those fighting addiction and hear what the provincial government has to say, as the associate minister of Mental Health and Addictions tours the detox centre.
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