Advocates seek Indigenous-focused addiction counselling centre for Vancouver

Advocates call for the formation of an urban indigenous family-based counselling centre because they say the opioid crisis is disproportionately affecting Indigenous people.

Opioid crisis disproportionately affecting Indigenous people according to First Nations Health Authority

First Nations advocates in Vancouver say the region needs more Indigenous-based addictions healing treatment options. (Shutterstock)

Metro Vancouver First Nations advocates want an Indigenous-focused addiction treatment centre in the region because they say the province's opioid crisis is disproportionately affecting the region's urban Indigenous population.

According to data from B.C.'s First Nations Health Authority, First Nations people are disproportionately affected by the overdose crisis, which has seen an average of nearly four people in the province die each day.

The health authority says First Nations people are five times more likely to overdose on illicit drugs and three times more likely to die from an overdose.

Kevin Barlow, the CEO of Metro Vancouver's Aboriginal Executive Council, says many Indigenous people turn to alcohol and drugs to cope with years of unhealed trauma, for example, from residential schools.

"Those things don't go away overnight," he explained.

Trust an important factor

Barlow said there is a need for culturally sensitive programming — like Indigenous healing practices and support from elders — to complement Western addictions treatment.

Furthermore this work needs to carefully consider issues of trust, he said.

"If someone has grown up in the system, whether they've been in the foster care system, there's a lot of mistrust because they don't stay in one foster home for example.Their attachment capacity is limited.

"When they finally reach a point where they're reaching out for help, trust is a clear factor, especially when the system has been led by non-Indigenous people taking [them] out of their home or that type of thing. These things stay with people throughout their life.

"When they go and see an Indigenous person who's offering a service, they'll connect to that quicker."

According to the First Nations Health Authority, there are currently 10 residential treatment centres, funded through the National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program​ (NNADAP), in British Columbia but none in Vancouver.

Other counseling services in the city have long wait lists, Barlow said.

His organization hopes to raise enough funding to make a healing space in the city a reality.

"Funding is the number one issue," he said. "If we can talk to the First Nations Health Authority, Vancouver Coastal Health, Fraser Health [to] see if they would all co-fund this initiative ...I think it would go a long way."

The group is holding a public meeting on Wednesday about the new centre at the Native Education College in Vancouver starting at 5 p.m. PT.

Listen to Kevin Barlow on CBC's The Early Edition