More than five years ago the Government of BC declared a state of emergency in response to the toxic drug supply, yet the crisis still continues and is getting much worse. The province has seen an increase in both the number of lives saved by implementing harm reduction approaches and, tragically, an increase in the number of lives lost.
“In many cases, underlying chronic, severe trauma is related to substance use, and the pandemic has made it even more important to increase mental health and wellness supports for BC First Nations people," says Dr. Nel Wieman, Acting Chief Medical Officer for the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA).
This year for International Overdose Awareness Day, the FNHA provided community-based grants of $1,000 to 70 First Nations communities and organizations to host events, gatherings or ceremonies on or around Aug. 31 to remember without stigma the people who have died, and to acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind.
“Activities funded by these grants are intended to promote health and wellness, remember and honour those lost, foster conversations about harm reduction, reduce stigma, and support people where they are at," says Dr. Wieman.
There are some common themes for the day, as well as some very creative ideas. Art therapy is a popular theme for many of the community events:
Many communities are hosting ceremonies, combined with sharing First Nations teachings and traditional medicines. Some ceremonies are connected to choosing a commemorative space to remember lost loved ones. Several are gathering to share a meal.
One community group is organizing a “walking bridge" through its town with a memorial flower drop and posters that include messages in memory of those they have lost.
Educational and awareness-raising activities are cornerstones of most events, which include sharing harm-reduction information, resources and supplies, as well as providing nasal naloxone training sessions at some events. At several gathering, speakers will address participants with messages related to grief, loss, healing, and reducing stigma. Appropriate COVID-19 safety protocols will be in place at all gatherings.
Stay tuned for detailed stories about International Overdose Awareness Day events hosted by and for First Nations people in the coming month.