Like so many British Columbians, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip has a personal connection to the province’s overdose epidemic.
“In fact I lost my 42 year old son, Kenny, to a carfentanyl overdose last August,” the long-time president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) revealed in a media release this morning (March 11).
Carfentanil (sometimes spelled as carfentanyl) is a synthetic opioid similar to fentanyl but significantly stronger. It first appeared in Vancouver’s illicit-drug supply in the winter of 2016 and, since then, has been associated with a growing number of deaths.
The UBCIC release does not include any additional information on Kenny’s passing. It was issued today as a call for the province to intensify its response to the overdose crisis.
“The UBCIC calls on B.C. to recognize that the opioid overdose crisis constitutes a state of emergency,” it reads.
“Further,” the release continues, “the UBCIC, following the findings of a number of investigative reports, calls on the provincial government to launch a public inquiry into the influence of international organized crime syndicates in fueling the crisis.”
Former provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall declared a state of emergency on April 14, 2016.
During the preceding year (April 2015 to March 2016), there were 640 fatal overdoses across the province. In 2018, there were 1,489.
The UBCIC release acknowledges that state of emergency and adds the UBCIC now wants the provincial government to officially follow suite.
UBCIC secretary treasurer Kukpi7 Judy Wilson is quoted emphasizing the extent to which Indigenous populations are disproportionately affected by the crisis.
“First Nations people are five times more likely than non–First Nations citizens to experience an opioid-related overdose event, and three times more likely to die from an opioid-related overdose,” she said quoted there.
An August 2017 report confirms those statistics. Analyzing data from February 2015 to July 2016, its authors found that Indigenous women were especially vulnerable.
“First Nations women were experiencing eight times more overdose events and five times more deaths from overdose than non-First Nations women,” the report reads.
The UBCIC’s release includes information on an upcoming conference that will discuss how Canada’s opioid epidemic is affecting Indigenous people and “outline a clear pathway of actions and recommendations for First Nations coping with and remedying the crisis”. Called “Opioids: Wiping the Tears. Healing the Pain,” the meeting is scheduled to for May 6 to 9, 2019, in Tsuut’ina Territory, Calgary, Alberta.
Stewart is quoted in today’s release emphasizing that authorities need to work together.
“This devastating crisis is stealing the lives of our most vulnerable,” he said quoted there.
“The UBCIC is fully committed to exhausting all appropriate avenues to find an immediate solution to this crisis. It is imperative for the government of B.C. to commit to the same. Collectively First Nations and the B.C. government can heal these wounds and protect our communities.”