The First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) recently launched a harm reduction campaign to reduce overdose deaths by amplifying the voices of First Nations people affected by toxic drug use and overdose.
It's a campaign that focuses on harm reduction, an approach that prioritizes empowering individuals to find the supports they are looking for at different points on their healing journey.
Melanie, from the Saddle Lake Cree Nation, says the fear of shame, judgment and discrimination are barriers that can prevent people from reaching out for support. However, she also stresses that an open mind can play a role in overcoming these fears and saving lives:
“I think if we addressed meeting people where they are through the harm reduction model, if everybody embraced that - that would help a lot of people reach their goals."
Sekani, who comes from the Dakelth First Nation, says that while harm reduction is often misunderstood, it is an important approach because it focuses on keeping people alive.
“I hear it from people in my own family as well: 'we're just enabling people and giving them the tools to keep harming themselves.' But if we look at the bigger picture, the only enabling we're doing is enabling them to stay alive," she says.
“I think if we could all focus on one thing to address the overdose crisis, it would be finding ways to make drug use more safe. That could mean a lot of things. It could mean reducing stigma, it could mean having a safe supply, it could mean us having bigger conversations with everyone."
Taking the first step to healing means being alive to take that step. Harm reduction sites and services are open, safe and expanding to more locations in BC.
The number of First Nations people dying from toxic drugs has risen dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, with First Nations people dying at over five times the rate of other BC residents. The FNHA aims to provide information, assistance and support for individuals and their loved ones who have been affected by this public health crisis.
To learn more about Melanie and Sekani's stories, harm reduction and the resources available through the FNHA, visit www.fnha.ca/harmreduction