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BC’s Chief Coroner examines Indigenous overdose numbers

BC’s illicit overdose crisis continues to disproportionally affect our Indigenous population.

Last year, 254 First Nations people died in BC due to toxic drugs.

That’s a 119 percent jump from 2019 and the highest number of deaths recorded for First Nations since 2016.

The province recorded a record 176 overdose deaths in April with seven of those in Northern Health.

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Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe told Vista Radio the negative impacts of the residential school system are playing a role when it comes to the numbers.

“There is no doubt that the residential school system is a horrendous part of our history both in Canada and BC. I don’t think there is a person in this province who can’t think of children being forcibly separated from their parents without feeling absolute shame.”

“The impacts of so much of the racism that our first nations communities have experienced over decades including residential schools and including the treatment they have experienced when trying to access healthcare has led to impacts of families being torn apart for decades, resulting in vulnerabilities.”

Lapointe admitted the way Indigenous people were dealt with either by law enforcement or society as a whole further complicated the problem.

“I think it really serves to emphasize that for so many years those who were experiencing problematic substance use were treated as criminals and they were shunned or shamed, which exacerbated what they were already facing.”

“We now realize that was the absolute worst thing we could have done. We see as a society now the effects of all of that in the numbers we are seeing particularly with the toxicity of the drug supply.”

First Nations people died at 5.3 times the rate of other British Columbians in 2020, up from 3.9 times in 2019.

So far this year, 48 people have lost their lives to illicit drugs within our health region, with seventeen of those taking place in PG.

Northern Health continues to have the highest drug toxicity rate out of all the health authorities in BC at 50 per 100,000 residents – four points ahead of Vancouver Coastal at 46.

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