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First Nations Health Authority reports spike in overdose deaths among Indigenous people

Drug users are dying from overdoses in record numbers, including members of First Nations communities in B.C.

The First Nations Health Authority said overdose deaths among Indigenous, Metis, and Inuit users spiked between January and May of this year.

The FNHA said 89 deaths were recorded, a 93-percent increase over the same period last year.

This year alone, First Nations peoples are dying from overdose at more than five times the rate of the rest of the B.C. population. 

First Nations peoples in rural and urban communities are over-represented in this crisis.

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“The illicit drug toxicity crisis in B.C. has resulted in a heartbreaking number of deaths in communities across British Columbia and, as we see from the Coroners Service data reported to the First Nations Health Authority, has impacted Indigenous people at an even more tragic rate,” said Lisa Lapointe, BC’s Chief Coroner. 

“We know the drug supply in British Columbia is dangerously toxic; the data being shared today represents a clear signal that all levels of government must urgently improve access to safer supply and to evidence-based, culturally safe, supports and services for those experiencing problematic substance use.”

The FNHA said safety measures during the COVID-19 pandemic have disrupted the drug supply, making it more toxic.

“These data demonstrate that the opioid crisis continues to disproportionally affect vulnerable BC First Nations people. The concurrent COVID-19 pandemic is also creating challenges for those struggling with addiction,” said Charlene Belleau, chair of the First Nations Health Council. 

“Properly resourced treatment centres and culturally safe harm reduction strategies will be critical moving forward. Now, more than ever, our people need this support.”

Members of First Nations and Metis communities makeup 3.4 percent of B.C.’s population but account for 16 percent of overdose deaths in the province.

“This is truly devastating to all of us.  We mourn deeply with each and every family for those we have lost to this terrible crisis,”  said Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. 

“Indigenous Peoples are over-represented in this crisis and we are committed to working together with First Nations communities and leaders to create mental health and addictions services that are culturally safe and community-led so that more families don’t have to keep experiencing these unimaginable and preventable losses of the people we hold close in our lives.”

Another factor is the health measures introduced, such as physical distancing.

The measures are having negative consequences on people who use illegal drugs.

Users may avoid harm reduction services and use drugs while they are alone.

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