Eliminating Stigma Around Substance Use Will Help Save Lives


International Overdose Awareness Day​​

A message from Richard Jock, FNHA Chief Executive Officer; and Dr. Nel Wieman, Acting Chief Medical Officer​​

International Overdose Awareness Day is a campaign to end overdose, give space to remember those who have passed on due to the toxic drug emergency, and acknowledge the grief and loss felt by those left behind.

​The toxic drug emergency has continued to worsen since being first declared in BC in 2016, impacting all First Nations communities in the province.

Because of the negative attitude some people hold toward substance use, people often hide their use, are more likely to use alone, and are less likely to seek support. This increases the risk of toxic-drug-related injury and death.

Knowing this, it is more important than ever to remind ourselves and others not to have a negative attitude toward, discriminate against, or stigmatize people who use substances. Instead, it is imperative that we start from a place of compassion and understanding, and that we treat all individuals with respect, love, and patience. We must also show sensitivity and compassion toward families, friends, and communities who are experiencing loss and profound grief.

The First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) continues to work to reduce and end the toxic drug emergency, taking a harm-reduction approach – one that meets people where they are at with acceptance and compassion. Indigenous harm reduction increases connection and rebuilds relationships with the interconnected spiritual, human, and natural worlds. Both approaches are based in dignity, self-determination, empathy, love, compassion and lateral kindness – not judgement and shame.

We are working to expand overdose prevention sites; increase access to treatment and recovery services; support connection to culture, land and community; and develop First Nations peer networks in both urban areas and rural and remote communities. FNHA also works to educate people on the harms of negative attitudes toward, discrimination against, or stigmatization of individuals who use substances and their families.

Negative attitudes, discrimination and stigma often emerge in the form of derogatory language that shames and belittles people. When it comes to substance use, this behavior impacts people with lived and living experience, as well as their families. This can lead to people feeling isolated, and unable to find connection with family and community.

First Nations people also face systemic racism and discrimination including stereotypes that are perpetuated across the healthcare system and lead to mistreatment and sub-standard care. This also impacts individuals' ability to access life-saving care and seek a safe drug supply.

We've heard reasons that contribute to First Nations people turning to substances, including:

  • Disconnection from family, community, land and culture due to colonialism,
  • Historical and modern-day traumas,
  • Loss and suffering from suicides,
  • Lack of access to culturally safe supports that address root causes of substance use,
  • Mental health needs, and
  • Pain management.  

Accepting someone for who they are and meeting them where they are at can address the stigma and shame they have experienced. We recognize there is much work to be done to reduce the harms and support people on their healing journeys, and will continue to enhance the FNHA's toxic-drug-emergency response to support First Nations in BC. We encourage everyone to learn more about harm reduction and how to cultivate surroundings that are free from stigma and discrimination.

Here are some resources to promote a stigma- and discrimination-free environment:

Skip Navigation LinksFNHA.ca>About>News and Events>News>Eliminating Stigma Around Substance Use Will Help Save Lives