International Drug Users' Remembrance Day



A message from Dr. Nel Wieman, Acting Chief Medical Officer; and Corrina Chase, First Nations Addictions Care Partnership Manager

​Today is International Drug Users' Remembrance Day (July 21), a time to remember and honour the thousands of people, including First Nations, who have died because of the toxic-drug-poisoning crisis in Canada. It is also a time to stress the potentially life-saving importance of respecting and empathizing with people who use drugs, whatever their reason for doing so.

The theme for this year's event, “People first: stop stigma and discrimination; strengthen prevention," was chosen because both stigmatization and criminalization of people who use drugs have prevented many from seeking help, thereby causing great harm.

At the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA), our philosophy is to “Increase the Support and Reduce the Harm." Our harm-reduction model is based upon empathizing with people who use drugs. We work to help First Nations people who use drugs, as well as to support the healing journeys of First Nations people who are grieving the death of loved ones due to toxic-drug poisoning.

If someone you love has died from toxic-drug poisoning, “Honouring our Loved Ones" is a webpage on our FNHA website where you/community members can share a message about who that person was and how loved they were. You can also find support with our Healing Indigenous Hearts resource, which includes information about “Healing Indigenous Hearts" groups.

It is important to understand that experiencing a toxic-drug-poisoning event is not a risk only for people who use drugs regularly, but for everyone. First-time users, occasional users, or daily users are all at risk of drug poisoning and death. This is true whether those drugs are injected or smoked or snorted. According to the latest report from the BC Coroners Service, the most common path to a drug-related death in 2020 was through smoking/inhalation, at 56 per cent.

Nearly seven people die of toxic drugs in BC each day, and more than 12,000 have died since 2016 when BC declared the toxic-drug crisis a public health emergency. The Northern and Island regions of BC, as well as the Vancouver Coastal region, all have equivalent, consistently high toxic-drug death rates.

To prevent further loss of life to toxic-drug poisoning, you can practise these harm-reduction approaches in your interactions with people who use drugs:

  • Stigma and discrimination can prevent people who use substances from accessing life-saving medications, supplies, or even for asking for help from loved ones or health providers.
  • Shaming people will not prevent them from using substances. Rather, in many cases, people will internalize the judgements and feel unworthy and hopeless, which makes them far less likely to seek help.
  • Respect and empathy go a long way to help another human being understand that they are worthy and valued.
  • People who use substances are not being reckless. They are contending with a dangerous, potentially lethal supply of unregulated toxic street drugs that are killing them. It is more important than ever that we understand this so we know how to help them.
  • If someone asks for help, please keep an open mind and listen to them. Support their self-determination and their chosen pathway(s) to wellness.
  • “Safer supply," which is different from “decriminalization," is a harm-reduction strategy that aims to separate people from the increasingly toxic and unpredictable drug supply by providing regulated versions of some criminalized drugs. Carolyn Bennett, Canada's Mental Health and Addictions Minister, recently reported that this strategy has already proven effective at saving lives.

The FNHA advocates for safer supply programs for First Nations people who use drugs. Currently in BC, only Vancouver and Victoria have federally funded safer-supply programs.

This is inadequate, as the toxic-drug-poisoning crisis is affecting all corners of the province. And while Risk Mitigation Guidance prescribing (a form of prescribed safer supply) is somewhat available everywhere, many First Nations people live in remote or rural areas as a result of the reserve system created under the Indian Act, and they should also have access to these life-saving medications and other therapies.

We will continue to work to mitigate and end the toxic-drug-poisoning crisis, including advocating for safer-supply programs for First Nations people in BC, wherever they live.

For more on the FNHA's approaches to harm reduction, visit​

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