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'Drugs are killing our young people': South Sudanese community mourning opioid-related deaths


Edmonton’s South Sudanese community held a rally at the Alberta legislature Friday to bring awareness to deaths in the community due to opioids.

The protestors called for supervised consumption sites in Alberta to be given better resources. A member said their community has lost two to three members a month due to overdoses since the pandemic began.

"Drugs are killing our young people and we feel that this situation is going to eliminate our population in this country,” said Mawien Akot, a South Sudanese Edmontonian.

“We ran away from warlords in South Sudan only to die here from drug lords… and that’s unacceptable."

There needs to be specific resources to deal with the needs of the South Sudanese community, according to Akot.

“Any of the programs that are done without consideration to our history or our root-cause problems, cannot effectively address the situation in our community,” said Akot.

Another part of the system that needs to be fixed is halfway houses, according to protestors.

One of the protesters told CTV News Edmonton that her son went to a halfway house as part of treatment, but he died from an overdose while there.

“My son was looking to change and for a safe place… they told me no drugs, no alcohol, no weapons… when I heard he died from a drug overdose I collapsed,” said Victoria Gimis.

“When we left South Sudan and came to Canada they told us we were coming for a better life… there is no better life in Canada, we lose our children every month, every year.”

“Even the facilities and the programs that are supposed to help us, are not helping,” said Akot.

The South Sudanese community hopes the gathering Friday also begins to break down drug-related stigma in their culture.

“The stigma of being labeled as a family with a drug overdose is quite significant to our community,” said Akot. “This is a big challenge that we need to overcome.”

In a statement to CTV News Edmonton, a spokesperson for Mike Ellis, associate minister of mental health and addictions, said he reached out to the South Sudanese community Friday morning to arrange a meeting.

“Minister Ellis wants to hear any input from the South Sudanese community in Edmonton – and any other Albertans – about how addiction impacts them,” said Steve Buick, spokesperson for the minister.

“The Minister will also ask the community for help in encouraging their community members to use the range of services available, including take-home naloxone kits, services that will protect them while using substances, and treatment and recovery options.”


Two Alberta advocacy groups, Moms Stop the Harm and the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society, filed a lawsuit against the province over recent changes to supervised consumption sites. The groups said mandating healthcare cards at the sites will discourage people from using them, potentially leading to more overdoses. 

“There is a lot of stigma, shame and blame involved in using substances,” said Petra Schulz, co-founder of Moms Stop the Harm. “That’s why my son, who died in 2014, was hiding his substances from us and relapsed and died alone.

“We need to stop this.”

The new regulations, which aren’t set to come into effect until September, go beyond the requirements in any other province in Canada, according to Schulz.

NDP Health Critic David Shepherd added that the government needs to “invest at all points in the system.”

“It’s regrettable that people would have to sue their government to get appropriate action to protect those that are simple trying to access services that can save their lives,” said Shepherd.

CTV News Edmonton reached out to the provincial government for comment but has not heard back.

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Ryan Harding Top Stories

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