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

Forty sled dogs were seized by the BC SPCA from a Salmo kennel in February. A recent ruling has decided the dogs won’t be returned. Photo: Gounsil/Flickr
BC Farm Industry Review Board rules against Salmo kennel after 40 sled dogs seized

Spirit of the North Kennels was also ordered to pay BC SPCA $64,000

Residents line up outside the Vernon Recreation Complex for their COVID-19 vaccine Saturday, June 5. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
No appointments necessary for first dose COVID-19 vaccine: Interior Health

People can just show up at clinics, register on the spot and get the shot

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Thursday, June 10, mentioned Grand Forks among two other COVID “hot spots” in B.C. Photo: Screenshot - YouTube COVID-19 BC Update, June 10, 2021
PHO Henry says West Kootenay city is a COVID ‘hot spot’ in B.C.

There are 11 cases of COVID-19 in the Grand Forks local health area, according the BC CDC

SD20 now has an electric bus. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay-Columbia School District 20 adds electric bus to fleet

Bus will be incorporated into Castlegar route for next school year

Cougars who kill pets are a potential threat to humans, Conservation Officer Kyle Bueckert said. File photo
Wildlife officials stymied after West Kootenay cougar sighting posted only to Facebook

Conservation Officers are reminding the public to phone RAPP-line when they spot dangerous wildlife

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Police cars are seen parked outside Vancouver Police Department headquarters on Saturday, January 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver police officer charged with assault during an arrest in 2019

The service has released no other details about the allegations

Denmark’s Christian Eriksen receives medical attention after collapsing during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group B match between Denmark and Finland at Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Saturday, June 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, Pool)
Denmark soccer player Christian Eriksen collapses during game against Finland

Eriksen was given chest compressions after collapsing on the field during a European Championship

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
2 sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the child welfare system takes Indigenous children from their families

Nathan Watts, a member of the Tseshaht First Nation near Port Alberni, shares his story of substance use, a perspective he said isn’t seen enough. (Photo courtesy of Nathan Watts)
Public shaming, hate perpetuates further substance use: UVic researcher

Longtime addict Nathan Watts offers a user’s perspective on substance use

57-year-old Kathleen Richardson was discovered deceased in her home Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Her death is considered a homicide and connected to the slain brothers found on a Naramata forest road. (Submitted)
Condolences pour in for Kathy Richardson, Naramata’s 3rd homicide victim in recent weeks

Richardson was well liked in the community, a volunteer firefighter with a home-based salon

Most Read