“CATASTROPHIC HARM”: Manitoba First Nation calls state of emergency over drug abuse, overdose deaths

The Long Plain First Nation (LPFN) is calling a state of emergency, as the local chief says drug abuse and drug overdose deaths continue to take lives and cause “catastrophic harm” in the community.

“We are losing people, and sadly we are losing young people,” LPFN Chief David Meeches said on Tuesday, one day after LPFN put out a notice to community members that they are calling a state of emergency in the community located west of Winnipeg near Portage la Prairie.

“We’re mobilizing now, because if we don’t more lives are going to be lost to the drug crisis.”

Meeches said he does not have a number of how many drug-related deaths LPFN has had in the last few weeks and months, but he did say they have seen a “noticeable spike” recently in the community of about 1,200 on-reserve members.

“The number is high enough that we knew we had to take action,” Meeches said. “The first things you have to do is recognize that’s there is a problem, and only then can we start to really deal with that problem.”

Although Meeches said he will be asking for support from other levels of government, he added the community is also now taking a strong look and what can be done “internally” to combat drug abuse and drug dealing.

“It starts with the community, because if you have the political will from leadership and you have the will from the community you can start to mobilize, and now we are mobilizing to make this a high priority,” he said.

“This council has the political will to finally do something about it, and we can feel that the community is behind us on this.”

In a notice announcing the state of emergency, LPFN said that leadership has already worked to establish a new committee that will now “prioritize the exchange of knowledge and coordinate action to preserve life, and directly address the issue of the drug crisis within our community.”

LPFN is currently serviced by the Manitoba First Nations Police Force, (MFNP) and Meeches said there are also plans in the works for meetings with MFNP officials, to discuss the enforcement of drug-related laws, specifically when it comes to drug trafficking and bootlegging.

“We feel leadership, the community and law enforcement really needs to coordinate our efforts on enforcement, and on what enforcement should look like, because we want to punish and deter drug dealers, but at the same time, we need to support drug users who are struggling, and not just criminalize them.”

Meeches said it is often youth and young adults who are dying drug-related deaths in the community, so he said the response has to be “urgent” before more young people lose their lives.

“Sadly this is really effecting the younger generation,” he said.

Other issues including poverty, homelessness and a lack of affordable housing are, according to Meeches, only adding to the amount of substance abuse currently taking place in the community.

“These issues have been in the community for a long time but we can’t sit back anymore, as leaders we have to tackle this head on, and we have to do it now.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun