A message from Richard Jock, FNHA Chief Executive Officer; and Dr. Nel Wieman, FNHA Deputy Chief Medical Officer
*Content Warning* This message may trigger unpleasant feelings or thoughts. Please contact the 24-Hour KUU-US Crisis Line at 1-800-588-8717 if you need emotional support.
The First Nations Health Authority is working hard in many different ways to mitigate and ultimately end the toxic drug crisis, and we are intensifying our actions to help First Nations people be safe and informed.
Drug poisoning related to the toxic drug supply continues to take the lives of First Nations people in BC at five times the rate of non-First Nations people in BC. Sorrow reverberates throughout our communities, as the pain felt by every person lost to toxic drugs lives on in the family members and friends left behind. Some of us at the FNHA have lost loved ones in this way, and we grieve with you and send our deepest condolences to you if you have lost someone.
In addition to ramping up our efforts to end this crisis, we want to support those of you who have lost loved ones as you navigate your grief and learn to adjust to life without them.
Along with harm-reduction education, programs and services, counselling services, treatment centres, and other tools we currently promote or deliver with our partners, and the work we are doing to raise awareness about the upcoming decriminalization of possession of small amounts of illicit substances, we have created some new offerings based on what we've heard from those who've lost loved ones.
Honouring Our Loved Ones
Today, the FNHA is launching a special online memorial site where grieving people can honour loved ones lost to drug poisoning using a story, video, photo, artwork, or an audio recording. “Honouring Our Loved Ones" is a safe and welcoming digital place dedicated to remembering loved ones for all that they were and sharing precious memories of them. Then, in the spring of 2023, the FNHA will plant a tree to memorialize loved ones in a dedicated area of the health region where the storytellers live.
Healing Indigenous Hearts
We are also creating a resource that features Indigenous ways of healing and managing grief and loss of a loved one to drug poisoning. The Healing Indigenous Hearts Facilitator Guidebook is being developed in partnership with Moms Stop The Harm (MSTH), a national organization that leads “Healing Hearts" circles of support across Canada. These circles bring together people who are grieving the loss of loved ones to drug poisoning, and provide a safe space for them to support one another to cope and manage. They are led by facilitators who have experienced this kind of loss, with the assistance of the organization's Healing Hearts Facilitator Guidebook.
As First Nations people are disproportionally over-represented in this crisis, we believe it is important to have a guidebook that provides Indigenous facilitators with step-by-step advice and tools for hosting a support group and providing culturally safe and appropriate advice. Losing a loved one as a result of substance use is different from losing them in another way, and it can be helpful to share feelings with others who have experienced this kind of loss. The Healing Indigenous Hearts Facilitator Guidebook will be available soon for use by Indigenous groups or communities. Meanwhile, if you are interested in gaining support from MSTH, you can access their website here.
Harm-Reduction Approaches Save Lives
To end toxic drug poisoning and deaths, the FNHA and our health care partners, as well as Indigenous individuals, families, and communities, must all work together. It is especially important for all of us to understand that ending the stigma surrounding drug use and instead employing harm-reduction approaches is necessary to save lives. Please see this information about harm reduction and harm-reduction approaches to learn more.
As First Nations people ourselves, we are empathetic towards those who struggle with drug use because we know that the disproportionate number of toxic drug deaths we are experiencing in our communities is, in large part, a consequence of another, long-standing public health crisis – namely racism and its devastating effects on health and wellness.
Many Indigenous people use drugs to cope with the intergenerational trauma and disconnection caused by multiple atrocities based in racism. These include historical and ongoing colonial and genocidal policies and systems such as the Indian residential “school" system, the Sixties' Scoop and ongoing child apprehensions, Indian hospitals, and the Indian reservation system, which forced most First Nations people off their homelands and onto remote reserves, causing isolation, lack of opportunities, loss of traditional livelihoods, and a lack of timely access to culturally safe health and mental health care, substance use and wellness supports, among many other things.
Knowing this, the FNHA remains committed to anti-racism work, including continuing to take strong, innovative actions to transform the health care system and to develop and implement culturally safe programs, resources, educational materials, services, and supports for people experiencing addiction and for people who are navigating the loss of loved ones due to toxic drug poisoning.
The FNHA will continue this work until we realize our vision of healthy, self-determining and vibrant BC First Nations individuals, families, and communities. We believe that together, we can achieve this. We remain deeply committed as an organization to work toward ending the toxic drug crisis that has been a public health emergency for nearly seven years now.
If you have lost a loved one, we encourage you to visit our new memorial site, Honouring Our Loved Ones, and share your story.
For information on the FNHA's work to date, click here. An update will be available on our website in October 2022.
We know that discussion of the toxic drug crisis and its impact on BC First Nations may be difficult and potentially triggering for the many people impacted. The KUU-US Crisis Line is available 24/7 to support Indigenous people in BC.
Toll-Free: 1-800-KUU-US17 (1-800-588-8717)