Overdoses in B.C. are on the rise, especially among Indigenous people, and the representatives of two Kamloops-area First Nations bands say they are concerned.
“I’m not surprised they’re high,” said Chief Rosanne Casimir of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, pointing to a lack of proper resources as a factor in the increase in overdose deaths from January to May this year compared to the same period in 2019.
There were 89 deaths through the first five months of 2020, compared to 46 deaths during the same period last year.
Casimir also cited the COVID-19 pandemic as a likely cause for the increase, noting it has made it more difficult for substance users to access support and reduction services.
“It’s so important to have a healthy community,” she said. “That starts with making sure we have systems in place to support addictions and mental health.”
Chief Ron Ignace of the Skeetchestn First Nation has similar thoughts.
“I think it’s because a lot of the supervised access sites have been closed down because of COVID,” he said.
Ignace added that the legacy of previous outbreaks, such as the smallpox epidemic of the 1860s and the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 and 1919, might be leading to additional fears amongst the Indigenous population.
Ignace said government needs to start taking steps toward reopening and increasing access to safe sites. He is also advocating for the decriminalization of personal drug use so substance users don’t have to turn to the black market for their supply.
“And there has to be better access to culturally relevant treatment,” he said. “There’s very little or none of those sites available.”
Casimir agrees there is a lack of resources available for First Nations.
“I’m glad to see that this is something that’s being addressed, that we’re having these conversations,” she said.
“During these challenging times, when we’re all facing two different things — the public health crisis of COVID and opioid crisis — it is so important that we have to stay safe, we have to be inclusive, we have to be compassionate.”