The Chief of an isolated Manitoba First Nation says the community is now mourning the death of one of their own, while also worrying there could be more overdoses and deaths in the coming days and weeks, now that a dangerous drug, known as “green beans,” is circulating in the community.
The Winnipeg Sun spoke to Bunibonibee Cree Nation (BCN), Chief Richard Hart on Tuesday, just days after a member of the First Nation community passed away from an apparent overdose.
Hart, who spoke over the phone from the remote fly-in community that sits approximately 950 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, confirmed that a father of seven children in BCN died last week from an overdose.
He added several other members of the community have been rushed for treatment after overdosing over the last several days.
“A number of people were rushed to nursing stations in an unconscious state and had to be revived,” Hart said. “And unfortunately we did have one death in the community last week.”
The recent overdoses and the one death are believed to be linked to a drug that RCMP say is now circulating in BCN, and is commonly referred to as “green beans.”
RCMP issued a warning on Sunday about the drug, which they said is often a light green colour, and resembles oxycodone tablets, but may contain fentanyl.
RCMP also said on Sunday that the pills are also currently circulating in the Shamattawa First Nation, another remote community in northern Manitoba.
Hart said knowing the drug may be making the rounds in BCN is scary because they don’t know if there is fentanyl in the pills, and if so, they don’t know how much of the often-deadly substance the pills may contain.
“In the past week we are seeing more of an appearance of the little green pills and they could be laced with fentanyl, or they could be fully fentanyl,” Hart said. “That’s the scary part because we just don’t know how dangerous they are.
“But we know they are very dangerous, and we know they are here.”
According to Hart the pills have been present in the community before, but not to the extent they have been so far in the past few days and weeks.
“We have heard isolated reports of these green beans in the past, but in the last week we have had a real spike in overdoses like we have not seen before,” Hart said.
He added an autopsy is currently being done on the community member that died last week to establish exactly what caused his death.
“We believe the death is linked to the green beans pill, but are still waiting for the autopsy to be done on that individual to make sure that is the cause of death,” Hart said.
And despite its remote location and the fact that there are no roads in or out of the area outside of winter roads, Hart said drug dealers are continuing to find ways to bring drugs to BCN, and making it very difficult for local leaders and police to stop them.
“Unfortunately we know we have people in the community dealing drugs like cocaine and Percocet and now these green beans, and unfortunately when there is drug dealing going on we know there are gangs and gang activity involved,” Hart said.
One of the biggest challenges, according to Hart, is that even when police shut down drug operations and arrest drug dealers, more dealers and operations often quickly fill the void.
“Even when you shut down one dealer or trafficker, there is another member of that group that picks up the slack and keeps things going,” Hart said. “A few people have been charged with drug trafficking recently, and it puts a lull in it for a little bit, but it tends to start up again.”
Hart said that along with enforcement they are working to find more “long term solutions” to the issue of alcohol and drug addiction in BCN, but he admitted there are currently not a lot of counselling or support options for those in the community dealing with addictions.
“We need to work very hard on finding these long-term solutions,” Hart said. “And what we need is addictions programs and shelters so we don’t have to be sending people to Winnipeg for care, because the way it is set up now just doesn’t work.”
The Winnipeg Sun reached out to Shamattawa First Nation Chief David Monias for comment, but did not hear back before Tuesday’s press deadline.
— 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