Pubdate: Fri, 04 Aug 2017
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Times Colonist
Author: Sarah Petrescu
Page: A3


Shirley Jones said she was devastated to learn that three young men in
her family from the Tseshaht First Nation in Port Alberni died in
recent weeks from suspected fentanyl overdoses.

"It's heart-wrenching living this [crisis] at work and then hearing
about these young people in my mother's family," said Jones, who is a
custodian at Our Place Society on Pandora Avenue. An
overdose-prevention site has operated at the site since 2016.

"Even here, I've seen young natives who were chronic alcoholics die
from overdoses, and I had no idea they even used," she said. "It was

According to a report released Thursday by the First Nations Health
Authority and the province, First Nations people in B.C. are five
times more likely to overdose and three more times likely to die from
an overdose than non-Indigenous people.

The data was collated from several sources, including coroners
reports, in 2015 and 2016. It does not include Metis, Inuit or
non-status First Nations.

Dr. Shannon McDonald, the health authority's deputy chief medical
officer, said it's important to look at the root causes of the
overdose crisis as it relates to Indigenous people.

"That root cause rests in colonization, displacement and a connection
that has been broken [in communities]," she said, citing racism and
discrimination in accessing medical and social supports as other causes.

McDonald pointed out that while nearly 80 per cent of the overdoses in
the general public are men, in Indigenous communities the ratio of men
to women is closer to 50-50. First Nations women in their 40s had the
highest rates of overdose deaths.

She suggested this might be because of the "unspeakable" trauma First
Nations women experience as young girls.

"When I talk to communities, I often hear: 'You have to talk to the
kids.' My response is: 'No, I have to talk to mom and dad and maybe
even grandma and grandpa,' " said McDonald, noting those who died of
overdoses ranged in age from 15 to 69.

She noted one of the issues unique to First Nations is a lack of
access to emergency and health services in rural communities, as well
as addictions supports.

"The harm-reduction message is a new one to many of our communities
who have been abstinence focused," she said.

At a press conference in Vancouver on Thursday, Dr. Perry Kendall, the
province's chief medical officer, and Judy Darcy, the addictions and
mental health minister, both committed to better support First Nations
in the overdose crisis.

At the Our Place Society overdose-prevention site, an orange shipping
container named the Pod, outreach liaison Aura Lavallee said it's
important to make sure everyone accessing the services feels welcome
and not judged.

"Our community is very aware of that," said Lavallee, who is Metis and
noted peer support workers and the spiritual care team as important

Johnny Toodlican, Gitxsan First Nation from the New Hazelton area,
said he has injected heroin (and now fentanyl and carfentanil) for
more than 15 years, but prefers to use alone, despite the risk of overdose.

"I'm too shy to be with other people," said Toodlican, who overdosed
once after a period of not using drugs while in jail. He was saved by
someone who administered the opioid antidote naloxone and carries a
kit himself with four syringes already loaded.

"You have to be ready when someone goes down," he said. While he
doesn't use the overdose-prevention site at Our Place Society, he does
use other services there and said he always feels welcome.
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