B.C.’s First Nations leaders suspect high rate of overdose deaths

B.C. aboriginal leaders seek overdose death data

VANCOUVER — First Nations leaders in British Columbia say they suspect the deadly opioid fentanyl is having a disproportionate impact on their communities but they can’t get the numbers to prove it.

Grand Chief Edward John of the First Nations Summit said he’s been asking the First Nations Health Authority and other provincial authorities for the data since last fall but nothing has yet been delivered.

“I don’t even know how to feel, we need to have that information and we shouldn’t wait to act,” he said.

Over 900 people died in the province from illicit overdoses last year. John said although he doesn’t know what proportion of those who died are indigenous, he knows plenty of families and communities that have fallen victim to the crisis.

“All I hear is the anecdotal information from communities where funerals are taking place,” he said “People are dying needlessly.”

The First Nations Health Authority said it’s working with the BC Coroners Service to develop an approach to collect the data that would identify deceased individuals as aboriginal.

Current data collected by the agencies is based on self-identification and must first be compared against the B.C. Ministry of Health’s First Nation client file, which includes data from the federal government.

“We want to ensure that any publicly released aboriginal specific data is as accurate as possible,” said Dr. Shannon McDonald, deputy chief medical officer for the First Nations Health Authority, in an email statement.

“Once the data matching is completed and there’s greater confidence in the numbers, it will be available for release,” she said, adding that numbers may not be available for a few weeks at least.

In the meantime, the health authority said it’s addressing the overdose crisis by educating the public about the harmful potential of opioids and distributing naloxone, the overdose-reversing drug.

More than 70 First Nations health centres have received naloxone kits and the health authority said it held over 110 public training sessions on how to use the kits last year.

Despite these efforts to get ahead of the crisis, the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council declared a state of emergency after seeing too many deaths in its communities. The council represents a collection of First Nations bands in the B.C. Interior.

Tribal Chief Wayne Christian said in the days leading up to the declaration in March, five band members were buried in the span of a week.

“Any death is an emergency,” he said. “The grief and loss, compounded by the intergenerational trauma, people just said we have got to do something about this, enough is enough.”

Christian said the council is using the declaration to draw attention to the issue and educate people of all ages about addictions and drug use.

More people seem to be aware of the crisis now, he said, but the history of residential schools and abuse still leave many vulnerable to addiction and other health issues.

Terry Teegee, tribal chief of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, said another problem rural and remote communities face is the proximity to health care services.

He said the closest doctors for his people in the Takla Lake community are in Fort Saint James in north-central B.C., which he added is an area struggling to recruit and keep physicians. His people travel 5 1/2  hours to reach Prince George if they need a specialist, he said, or at times have to go even farther to Kamloops or Vancouver.

“Just the distance is, I suppose, you could define it as a health detriment in terms of accessing proper health care,” Teegee said.

There are 10 treatment programs with a total of 239 beds available to indigenous people in B.C. through the health authority, including one youth program. The health authority said some programs offer immediate treatment while others have a 10 to 12 week waiting list.

If there is a shortfall for services, John said overdose data could help First Nations leaders advocate for better resources when it comes to health care and addictions treatment.

Christian, who has worked with one of the addiction treatment programs, said even without data, there are many areas where health care can improve. He said there is a need for post-treatment services that prevent people from relapsing and for programs addressing the trauma that leads to addictions.

“Addictions is a system. The person comes out of a family, and yeah you can treat the one individual, but it’s the whole family system that needs to be treated,” he said.

Any data released can’t represent the effect overdose deaths are having on communities, he said.

“The hard part for me, when people talk statistics … those numbers aren’t numbers to us, those are our relatives,” Christian said. 

— Follow @Givetash on Twitter.

 

Linda Givetash, The Canadian Press

Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Motorists breaking travel rules can be fined $230 for failing to follow instructions or $575 if the reason for travel violates the essential travel health order, at this Highway 3 check area near Manning Park. Photo RCMP
RCMP begin stopping drivers on BC highways – check point at Manning Park

Four check points are set up Thursday May 6 around the province

The Aquilini Investment Group has agreed to a proposed contract of five years to run the Abbotsford Centre. (File photo)
Proposal to run Abbotsford Centre offered to Canucks ownership group

Planned five-year contract to cost city $750K annually, starting Jan. 1, 2022

The AHL Board of Governors has approved the Vancouver Canucks decision to move their franchise to Abbotsford. (File photo)
AHL approves Canucks’ franchise relocation to Abbotsford

Board of Governors approves move, season set to start on Oct. 15

Abbotsford Police Department Traffic Enforcement Unit officers were enforcing Highway 11 on Thursday morning. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
Abbotsford police enforce traffic on Highway 11

APD Traffic Enforcement Unit regularly responds to general public hot spot complaints

First responders were on the scene at West Oaks Mall following a collision involving a pedestrian on Sept. 29, 2020. (Kevin MacDonald file photo)
Man charged in relation to hit-and-run that injured pedestrian in Abbotsford

Collision took place in September 2020 in crosswalk at West Oaks Mall

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Surrey RCMP is investigating after a serious three-vehicle crash at the intersection of King George Boulevard and 128th Street Thursday afternoon (May 6, 2021). (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
VIDEO: Serious crash in Surrey sends 1 to hospital

Surrey RCMP say one of the drivers fled on foot, but was later found at an area hospital

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

John Paul Fraser, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association. (Screen shot)
Salmon farmers warn Surrey jobs on line as feds end Discovery Islands operations

344 full-time jobs at risk in Surrey and 1,189 B.C.-wide

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read