Pubdate: Fri, 04 Aug 2017
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Nick Eagland
Page: A8


B.C.'s overdose crisis is disproportionately impacting Indigenous
people, who are three times more likely than non-First Nations people
to die, according to data released Thursday.

The preliminary numbers show that 14 per cent of overdoses in B.C.
were experienced by First Nations people, who were five times more
likely than non-First Nations people to overdose.

Ten per cent of overdose deaths in B.C. were First Nations people, who
comprise 3.4 per cent of the population.

The data was collected from the B.C. Coroners Service, emergency
departments and other health services across B.C., then linked to the
First Nations Client File, which is a cohort of First Nations people
with registered Indian status. It does not include all Indigenous
people in B.C. or specify in which communities the deaths are occurring.

Data on overdoses was gathered Jan. 31, 2015 to Nov. 30, 2016, while
data on overdose deaths was gathered Jan. 31, 2015 to July 21, 2016.

Dr. Shannon McDonald, deputy chief medical officer for the First
Nations Health Authority, said that what officials learned from the
data would be used to stop people from dying while reducing stigma and
harm, through such measures as increasing access to supervised
consumption sites.

McDonald said health officials also want to address the root cause of
the crisis, which she attributed to trauma stemming from colonization,
displacement and disconnection from culture, family and community.

"Issues of racism, discrimination, judgment and lack of ability to
wrap people with love and services at every level has definitely
affected where we're going," she said.

The B.C. Coroners Service bolstered its overdose death data collection
after provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall declared a public
health emergency on April 14, 2016. But it was an arduous task to
identify those with status under the Indian Act among the 1,700 people
who have died of an illicit-drug overdose since the start of 2016,
which led to delays in the data being released.

"We've been slammed, frankly, by the number of deaths," said Lisa
Lapointe, the chief coroner.

"The overdose epidemic is showing us that illicit drug use in B.C. is
far more pervasive than we knew and our coroners are attending
fatalities across communities, across cultures, occupations and income
levels," she said.

And among First Nations peoples, overdose deaths were spread almost
equally across genders - 52 per cent men and 48 per cent women,
compared with 71 per cent for non-First Nations men and 29 per cent
for women.

McDonald said when she visits First Nations communities in the
aftermath of an overdose death, she often finds people don't realize
the ages of those most likely to die - men 30-39 and women 40-49.

"I'm often hearing from people, 'Oh, you have to come talk to our
kids, you have to come talk to the young people in the community.' And
my response has been, 'No, I need to talk to mom and dad.' And in some
circumstances, I need to talk to grandma and grandpa,'" McDonald said.

Judy Darcy, B.C.'s minister for mental health and addictions, said
she's learned a great deal from listening to people on the front lines
of the overdose crisis during her first two weeks on the job.

Darcy said she will use their information to help implement a policy
of "ask once, get help fast" for people battling addictions.

"What is crystal clear - what we already know - is that what's
happening with the overdose crisis and First Nations communities must
be absolutely central to our response as a ministry, as a government,
as a province," said Darcy, adding that First Nations perspectives
must be incorporated into her response, which she pledges will be swift.
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