FNHA – Tofino-Ucluelet Westerly News


Fatal overdoses among Indigenous people in British Columbia rose 93% in the first five months of 2020, according to the First Nations Health Authority.

In the Monday July 6 announcement, the FNHA said overdose deaths among First Nations, Inuit and Métis people increased 93% between January and May 2020, compared to the previous year. News of the Indigenous deaths came as British Columbia recorded its deadliest May since the overdose crisis began more than four years ago, with 170 deaths. Among Indigenous peoples, 98 people died in the first five months of 2020, up from 46 in 2019.

“When I talk about these numbers, I am talking about the people,” said Dr Shannon McDonald, acting chief medical officer at FNHA.

A “significant” portion of these deaths was due to fentanyl, which infected the British Columbia drug supply.

McDonald said the pandemic has resulted in increased drug toxicity in illicit substances available to First Nations communities. Although 6,315 naloxone kits have been delivered to First Nations sites and Native Friendship Centers, when people use alone, it is more difficult to get help before it is too late.

“COVID-19 has also forced people into isolation. We asked people to keep their distance from others.

Reinforcing isolation, McDonald said some people are choosing not to use supervised consumption sites during the pandemic, while others have no choice because the sites have temporarily closed.

“Without having someone with you … people die before they get hit.”

First Nations people, McDonald said, were disproportionately represented in overdose deaths before the pandemic due to intergenerational trauma and a lack of culturally safe services. First Nations, Métis and Inuit make up 3.4% of British Columbia’s population, but in 2019, they accounted for 9.9% of fatal overdoses between January and May. In 2020, this percentage rose to 16%.

“The problem is getting worse, not better,” she said. In 2019, Indigenous people were 3.8 times more likely to die from overdoses. In 2020, this was 5.6 times more likely.

McDonald said FNHA has been fighting since the start of the crisis to provide services to Indigenous peoples, including at supervised consumption sites and within First Nations communities.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said it was clear that “issues of systemic racism” prevent Indigenous people from accessing care in a culturally safe manner.

“It’s a challenge right now, more than ever. We know that the toxicity of the street food has increased more than ever, exponentially, ”she said.

Henry said the province is looking at how to continue responding to the pandemic without increasing the number of deaths due to British Columbia’s other public health crisis.

“These are the measures we have taken to try to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 … The measures that have closed or altered services at supervised consumption sites, closed shelters and resulted in job losses and homelessness disproportionately affected First Nations.

“If you don’t have a home or are in a convalescent home… it makes things riskier when COVID is circulating in the community. “

British Columbia Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said that while fentanyl, which entered British Columbia’s illicit drug supply in 2015, had increased the number of deaths, it was not not the only substance to blame.

Lapointe said 50 percent of fatal overdoses involved cocaine, 24 percent methamphetamine and 30 percent alcohol.

“He’s driven by fentanyl … but no one is safe,” she said. Lapointe said judgment and stigma around drug use are barriers to seeking help and urged the government to work to reduce both of these factors.

Acting Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nel Wieman said the grief, trauma and racism experienced by First Nations people can exacerbate the factors that lead people to use illicit drugs.

“We know that substance use disorders can be a symptom of a person’s distress,” said Wieman. “People have really stood up and supported public health measures for COVID-19… but when it comes to the ongoing opioid crisis, there are all kinds of stigma attached to it. “

The majority of overdose deaths among First Nations people occur in urban areas, where the president of the First Nations Health Council has said community members can lose touch with their support systems.

“It’s made it easier for our people to leave home and disappear in downtown Vancouver… it disconnects them from our communities,” said Charlene Belleau.

“Our leaders called for continued support at the community level so that we can bring our people home.”

McDonald said eight urban centers had a significant proportion of overdose deaths among First Nations: Prince George, Kamloops, Chilliwack, Surrey, Vancouver, Campbell River, Nanaimo and Victoria.

McDonald said treatment with opioid agonists, which uses methadone or buprenorphine (Suboxone), has helped. So far, seven communities are delivering Suboxone, with an expansion to seven more scheduled for 2021-2021.

Many advocates have called for legalizing small amounts of currently illegal substances to help people who use them avoid fentanyl.

Henry said “having access to a supply that isn’t going to kill you” was key to slowing overdose deaths.


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Native overdose crisis

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