The First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) says the opioid public health emergency has disproportionally affected First Nations peoples in BC due to the ongoing legacy of colonization.
According to preliminary findings on overdose data, 10% of all overdose deaths in BC were First Nations people. That means First Nations people are five times more likely to overdose on drugs and are three times more likely to die from an overdose that the rest of the population, according to the data. They also found that First Nations people, who make up 3.4% of the population in BC, account for 14% of overdoses in the province.
The data was collected in periods of time between Jan. 1, 2015-Nov. 30, 2016 and between Jan. 1, 2015-July 31, 2016.
The FNHA says racism, intergenerational trauma and a reported lack of access to mental health services are contributing factors for substance abuse among First Nations.
To find a solution, the FNHA says they’re working with the province to confront the issue through harm reduction rather than drug abstinence. The FNHA are also looking at implementing culturally safe health and social services along with destigmatizing substance abuse. Accessing emergency services in rural communities can also be a challenge for people here in the north.
“There’s no simple answer to that, but we’re trying to look at the system more broadly. We’re very blessed in our urban communities where access to emergency service is counted in minutes. In some of our rural communities it’s counted in hours,” says Dr. Shannon McDonald, First Nations Health Authority Deputy Chief Medical Officer.
Grand Chief Doug Kelly, First Nations Health Council Chair, says their leadership and caregivers know their people are in pain.
“And that far too many of our people self-medicate with alcohol and prescription and non-prescription drugs to numb this pain. We need to address our unresolved grief. We need work with our partners and stop focusing on the symptoms and start addressing the root causes of pain through increased access to trauma-informed mental health services,” says Kelly.
BC declared a public health emergency last year due to the opioid and fentanyl crisis.
Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy says she’ll be putting together proposals for a budget proposal in September.
“We are committed to working in partnership with First Nations communities to heal wounds and prevent future tragedies caused by this devastating overdose crisis. Together, armed with this new information, we can identify the areas where actions will have the greatest impact so people in First Nations communities get the support they need,” says Darcy.
You can find a link to the FNHA data released Thursday here.
(With files from Daryl Vandenberg, MyBulkleyLakesNow)