British Columbia on track to record more than 2,000 deaths this year due to an ongoing supply of toxic drugs. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress file)

British Columbia on track to record more than 2,000 deaths this year due to an ongoing supply of toxic drugs. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress file)

Toxic drug crisis disproportionately killing B.C.’s First Nations people

First Nations Health Authority reports First Nations people killed at more than five times B.C. rate

Recent data from the First Nations Health Authority shows intergenerational trauma and unsafe or unavailable health care has meant that First Nations people have been killed by toxic drugs at more than five times the rate of others in B.C.

Unequal responses to COVID-19 and the toxic drug crisis “have had a significant negative impact on toxic drug overdoses and deaths overall, especially for First Nations people in B.C.,” said FNHA acting chief medical officer of health Dr. Nel Wieman, who is Anishinaabe from the Little Grand Rapids First Nation in Manitoba.

Wieman said the combined forces of racism and misogyny create particularly high risk for First Nations women, who are nearly 10 times as likely to die of toxic drugs than other women.

Toxic drugs killed 176 people in April, putting British Columbia on track to record more than 2,000 deaths this year and see 2021 become its second consecutive most deadly year.

In the first four months of 2021, 680 people have died, 64 per cent more than the 390 deaths in the same period last year.

An average of about six people died each day in April, which was the province’s 14th month in a row with more than 100 deaths.

The data showing a widening gap in death rates between First Nations and others came the same week as the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc announced the nation had located the remains of 215 children in unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Green MLA Adam Olsen said residential schools and the toxic drug crisis are “inextricably linked.”

Olsen is a member of the Tsartlip First Nation on the Saanich Peninsula and represents Saanich North and the Islands for the BC Greens. His grandparents and many relatives were forced to attend Kuper Island Residential School near Chemainus.

The Greens called for an emergency response to the overdose public health emergency using “as much as is necessary” of the province’s approximately $3.1-billion contingency fund to implement safe supply and to create a cross-party committee on ending the crisis.

“We’ve talked about the emergency but not acted with the urgency,” said Olsen, who called on the province Monday to take immediate action to fund Indigenous supports and services.

The number of deaths continue to increase nearly nine months after the province promised an expansion to safe supply efforts in September, work it said is now in the hands of the medical community.

Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson said in the legislature there was still more to be done, and that the province has been expanding treatment beds, particularly for youth.

Olsen said it is clear the province needs to change course and provide the resources to end the toxic drug crisis that is disproportionately killing First Nations people.

“`Just the way it has always happened’ is going to have to change, because what has always happened is breaking us,” he said. “We as a province need to stop undervaluing Indigenous lives.”

Experts, advocates and people who use drugs have long said that safe and regulated supplies of now-illicit supplies are the best way to stop deaths in the short-term while culturally safe and evidence-based treatment and recovery options are expanded.

Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe, whose office is conducting a “systems-level” death review panel on toxic drug deaths, said immediate action needs to be taken while a comprehensive and culturally safe system of care is built.

“What we need in this province is a shift in velocity,” Lapointe said in an interview. “It will take time, but this is urgent. People are dying because we don’t have a supportive system in place.”

Meanwhile, the City of Vancouver submitted its final application to the federal government today seeking approval to decriminalize personal possession of some substances including opioids and cocaine, as well as MDMA, psilocybin mushrooms and benzodiazepines.

The model, which seeks an exemption from Ottawa from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, aims to reduce the harms of criminalization and connect people to health care, with no mandatory administrative or financial penalties. Drug manufacturing and trafficking would remain illegal.

But drug user advocacy groups have said the threshold amounts established by the city and the Vancouver Police Department are unrealistic, don’t reflect current use needs and patterns and won’t bring real decriminalization.

“Thresholds are a ridiculously archaic way of thinking you’re trying to somehow regulate how police interact with people,” Karen Ward, a drug user, Downtown Eastside resident and advocate, told The Tyee last month.

Decriminalization, which provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has repeatedly called for, also doesn’t change people’s dependence on the toxic illicit supply, which is why advocates say it must go hand in hand with safe supply to save lives.

Henry and Wieman agreed last week.

“We need to advance the calls that we put out from our office for several years around decriminalization,” said Henry. “We need to create a safer drug supply and that is one of the things we continue to push.”

— Moira Wyton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter , THE TYEE

RELATED: Vancouver sends drug decriminalization pitch to Health Canada for federal review

RELATED: First Nation MLA says B.C. must do more for reconciliation after residential school deaths

B.C. overdosesfentanylpublic health

Just Posted

Kimberly Vance-Lundsbye, with youngest son, Erik, encourages young people in 100 Mile House to volunteer for things they are passionate about. (Melissa Smalley photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Kimberly Vance-Lundsbye, with her youngest son, Erik, encourages young people in 100 Mile House to volunteer for things they are passionate about. (Melissa Smalley photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Sharing time and skills for a brighter future

Avid volunteer reflects on many reasons to contribute time to the community

An RCMP cruiser. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Boat and trailer stolen in 2017 found in 100 Mile House

Police received complaint from potential buyer

The BC Conservation Officer Service is investigating a dead fox found in a foothold trap. (File photo)
Conservation officers investigate dead fox in foothold trap

Residents reminded the traps are not allowed after March 31

An RCMP cruiser. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Off-duty officer intervenes following road rage incident

Two men involved in verbal altercation outside Mile 108 Elementary

The new homepage for SD27’s website. (Photo submitted)
SD27 upgrading its websites this summer

The process should be complete by September in time for the new school year

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials watching U.K.’s Delta variant struggles, ‘may need to slow’ restart plan

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

Highway notices like this come down effective June 14. Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and commercial operation have hit local businesses in every corner of B.C. (B.C. government)
Province-wide travel back on in B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan

Gathering changes include up to 50 people for outdoor events

Calgary Stampeders’ Jerome Messam leaps over a tackle during second half CFL western semifinal football action in Calgary, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
CFL football will be played this summer in Canada

Governors vote unanimously in favour to start the ‘21 campaign on Aug. 5

Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino holds a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. The federal government is announcing that Indigenous people can now apply to reclaim their names on passports and other government documents. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous people can now reclaim traditional names on their passports and other ID

Announcement applies to all individuals of First Nations, Inuit and Métis background

Most Read