B.C.’s overdose crisis is killing a disproportionate number of the province’s Indigenous peoples. That’s the clear takeaway from a depressing statistical update shared yesterday (May 27) by the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA).
“In 2018, 193 First Nations men and women died of an overdose in the province, a 21 percent increase from a year earlier,” it reads. “Overall, First Nations accounted for 13 percent of overdose deaths, up from 11 percent in 2017.”
Indigenous people account for roughly three percent of B.C.’s total population.
The numbers mean that an Indigenous person in B.C. is 4.2 times more likely to die of an opioid overdose compared to a non-Indigenous person.
"There's a strong association between trauma and the propensity for a substance use disorder,” FNHA chief medical health officer Dr. Evan Adams said quoted in a media release. “Whether that be intergenerational trauma that has impacted families and communities and ultimately individuals, or if it's the ongoing trauma of people's lives. What alarms me the most is how the gap is widening."
The FNHA’s findings concerning Indigenous women were especially startling.
For non-Indigenous people, 17 percent of fatal overdoses in 2018 were women. For the province’s Indigenous population, that number was 39 percent.
"Our data tells us that, overall, substantially more men than women are dying as a result of illicit drug use; primarily due to fentanyl,” said B.C. chief coroner Lisa Lapointe. “Data specific to First Nations people tells a different story. In the First Nations population, women are significantly over-represented, demonstrating a far more significant impact of the overdose crisis on this specific group. Information like this supports important evidence-based prevention efforts."
Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer for B.C., emphasized it is the problems beneath one’s addiction that ultimately must be addressed.
"It is distressing to see the continued disproportionate impact of this crisis on First Nations people and particularly women,” she said quoted in the release. “We know that when women are so affected it means families and whole communities are disrupted. We need to address the underlying causes of the pain and trauma that lead to drug use and addiction."
B.C. minister of mental health and addictions Judy Darcy said something similar.
"We have learned that barriers can come down when health care services are culturally-safe and community-led," she noted in the FNHA release. "Addressing the root causes, and underlying factors of addiction is key to our shared response to this achingly long public health emergency."
According to the B.C. Coroners Service’s latest bi-monthly report, there were 268 fatal overdoses across the province during the first three months of 2019. That follows 1,514 overdose deaths during all of 2018 and 1,491 in 2017.
From 2001 to 2010, the average number of fatal overdoses in B.C. each year was 204.