‘These deaths were preventable’: First Nations people make up 15% of drug overdoses in B.C.

The chief coroner in British Columbia says 11,000 people have died from an overdose since the province declared the opioid pandemic in 2016.

“B.C. has experienced an average of six deaths every day of every week for two years due to toxic drugs and these deaths were preventable,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner in B.C.

Lapointe said men between the ages of 30 to 59 make up 70 per cent of those deaths.

“Provincially from November 2021 to October 2022 deaths due to drug toxicity came second only to cancers in terms of potential years of lives lost in our province,” said Lapointe. “The average age of someone dying from drug toxicity was 44 years old.

“These are population characteristics but we all know, of course, that these numbers represent people, people who were loved who were valued and who are now greatly missed.”

Dr. Nel Wyman, acting chief medical officer for the First Nations Health Authority, said despite making up only 3.2 per cent of the population in B.C., First Nations people comprise 15 per cent of all toxic drug deaths in the province between 2021 and 2022.

“First Nations people are dying at over five times the rate of other B.C. residents,” he said. “Also in the First Nations data, First Nations women are disproportionately impacted during the first half of 2022.

“First Nations women died at 8.8 times the rate of other B.C. residents.”

Read the report here: BC Coroner Service 

B.C. Premier David Eby said his government is prepared to do whatever it takes to stop the crisis.

“Because when you talk to parents who have lost a kid, who thought they were taking some kind of party drug at an event and ended up taking fentanyl and dying, you understand how serious this issue is and how it crosses partisan lines,” he said.

“And how we all need to work on solutions.”

Subhead: Feds decriminalize small amounts of drugs

One of the moves to improve the situation is a three-year pilot program announced on Jan. 31, to stop prosecuting people for carrying small amounts of heroin, meth, ecstasy or crack cocaine, as part of an effort to fight a drug overdose crisis.

‘I think it is a good thing,’ said Dylan Dempsey, an admitted drug user.

“I think that’s a good thing because a lot of users have their own personal stash on them…so if they were to get stopped by the cops that’s a good thing for them you know because they shouldn’t be getting harassed [for] such a small amount.”

Lapointe said the change is a “key first step,” but “only one measure of many that are necessary to end this crisis.”

B.C. accounts for about a third of the 32,000 deaths due to overdose and trafficking nationally since 2016, according to official data. The province declared drug overdose a public health emergency that year.

There are 73,000 people in B.C. who have been diagnosed with opioid use disorder.

Deputy Chief Fiona Wilson, vice president of the BC Association of Chiefs of Police. says more work still needs to be done to address the drug overdose crisis and its impact on communities.

“We look forward to working with our partners on additional measures to combat the toxic drug crisis, including access to safe supply and better connecting people who use drugs with social health and treatment services,” says Wilson.

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