This news release may contain sensitive content and could be triggering. For mental health or crisis support, please contact the KUU-US Crisis Line at 1-800-588-8717 or visit the FNHA's website for additional support services.
Coast Salish Territory (Vancouver) - The First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) is releasing First Nations-specific data for toxic drug poisoning events in 2022, data that shows First Nations people remain disproportionately impacted, even seven years after British Columbia (BC) declared its province-wide public health emergency on illicit toxic drugs.
The year 2022 was the most devastating to date for First Nations people, their families, friends and communities. There were 373 toxic drug-poisoning deaths among First Nations people, a 6.3 per cent increase compared to 2021. First Nations people died at 5.9 times the rate of other BC residents in 2022.
A disturbing trend is the impact on First Nations women, who died at 11.2 times the rate of other female BC residents in 2022, an increase from the 2021 data.
In response, the FNHA has pivoted our toxic drug crisis response to First Nations women, dedicating a portion of our harm reduction funding to support those living in urban areas and away-from-home. Understanding and addressing the root causes of substance use and addiction, and working together to address the stigmas and other barriers to a spectrum of care for those using substances is a critical element in mapping a pathway forward.
The underlying reasons for the disproportionality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are complex and varied, but share a common thread in the ongoing and intergenerational impacts due to colonialism. Unresolved traumas and harms due to residential schools and other government-led institutions, barriers to mental health and substance use treatments that are culturally safe and appropriate, and systemic racism in the BC health care systems are among the triggers that can cause First Nations people to use substances that may be tainted by toxic, potentially lethal elements.
In acknowledging the devastating and ongoing impacts of toxic drugs, the FNHA continues to work in a harm reduction model focused on saving lives. In partnership with First Nations communities, Chiefs, health leaders, peer workers, health care frontline staff and other provincial partners, we are committed to developing culturally safe mental health and wellness programs and supports.
The data presented in this release is about more than numbers. Each of the people who died represent a tremendous loss to First Nations families and communities, and we raise our hands and extend our condolences to those suffering the loss of a loved one. Our hearts and prayers are with you.
The FNHA has created Healing Indigenous Hearts, a facilitators’ guidebook for those wishing to establish peer-support groups for Indigenous peoples and families that are navigating grief and loss related to the harms from substance use.
For more information about the FNHA's work on harm reduction, including the 2022 toxic drug poisoning data, please visit fnha.ca/harmreduction.
Richard Jock, Chief Executive Officer, FNHA
“It has been more than seven years since the BC government declared a province-wide public health emergency on illicit toxic drugs, yet the data clearly shows that 2022 was the most devastating year to date for First Nations people in BC. For this reason, the FNHA will continue its work with local and regional health authorities, government agencies, and community Chiefs and Health Directors for culturally safe mental health and wellness programs and supports and to address the stigmas surrounding toxic drug use and the people who use substances."
Colleen Erickson, Board Chair, FNHA
“These continuous annual increases in deaths of First Nations people in BC due to toxic drugs cannot be ignored. The FNHA remains committed to working with communities to do everything we can to address the crisis, and continuing on its journey of developing and embedding cultural safety and humility into the current health care system, creating safer and more accessible systems for better health outcomes for First Nations people."
Wade Grant, Board Chair, FNHC
"This is a complex public health crisis that disproportionately affects First Nations people. While we know that there are no easy answers, it is clear that a top-down approach has not worked for our people and that healing requires reclaiming traditional approaches grounded in culture. The March 2023 endorsement by Chiefs and Leaders of the FNHC's 10-Year Strategy on the Social Determinants of Health underscores the value of a wholistic, systems-based approach and the need for new investments in Healing Approaches and Cultural Infrastructure."
Dr. Nel Wieman, Acting Chief Medical Officer, FNHA
“The numbers do not tell the full story of the lives lost or the resulting impacts to the families, friends, communities and nations. While we continue the good work to provide culturally safe programs and services to support those who use substances, it is clearly not enough. We must also create a climate of hope. We build hope by stepping up our efforts, by changing how we think about, how we talk about, and how we treat people who use substances. We build hope by having those difficult and courageous conversations with the people around us who use substances – with the people we care about."