British Columbia

Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs demanding province take action on opioid crisis

it says the current situation is a state of emergency and it's asking the province to acknowledge its unique impact on First Nations communities.

'It feels like a runaway train you can’t stop'

Vancouver drug users rally in downtown Vancouver on the National Day of Action on the Overdose Crisis on Feb. 20, 2018. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs is calling on the provincial government to take action on the opioid crisis, which is devastating First Nations communities.

It says the current situation is a state of emergency and it's asking the province to acknowledge its unique impact on First Nations communities.

"It's not stopping for any of our communities, and we really need drastic action on this issue," said Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson, secretary-treasurer for the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

In 2017, a report by the First Nations Health Authority and B.C. Coroners Service found that status First Nations people were five times more likely to experience an overdose and three times more likely to die from one.

State of emergency

In 2016, a public health emergency was declared by the provincial health officer, but Wilson feels not enough resources have been dedicated directly to First Nations communities. 

The impact of opioids can be seen on the ground every day, she said. 

"I have people in our community who have been revived three to five times through naloxone, but they still continue [to use]," Wilson told Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk. 

"The frustrating part about this ... is it feels like a runaway train you can't stop," she said."There's not a lot of resources on the ground for it."

More attention

Wilson said they need updated data from the province, so more attention can be given to what is needed in First Nations communities. 

"We're buried under other statistics," she said. "I don't think there's enough data and I just don't think there's enough solutions."

B.C. Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy said in an emailed statement to CBC, that the unprecedented overdose crisis is her most urgent priority.

"We acknowledge this is the result of intergenerational trauma stemming from a history of colonization and racism, including the legacy of the residential school system and that is just not acceptable," said Darcy.

Finding solutions

In addition to treatment methods and cracking down on drug distribution, Wilson said First Nations communities need to strengthen connections and heal. 

"We really need to strengthen the families. We need to reconnect the families. We need the language and the culture in our communities, and we need to build up the families that have been torn down from residential schools and from the Sixties Scoop," she said.

Additional funding is needed in the areas of language and culture to nurture identity, said Wilson.

She added that she is looking forward to an upcoming First Nations Opioid Conference in Calgary to try to find clear solutions to help remedy the crisis. 

The minister said providing options is key to the province's response, because everyone has their own path to healing.

"We have also partnered with the First Nations Health Authority, Métis Nation and Friendship Centres on a three-year investment of $20 million to support First Nations communities and Indigenous people in B.C," said Darcy. 

Multiple emergencies

For the Secwepemc Nation, one of the issues it faces is having multiple states of emergency, said Wilson. This includes, fires, floods and the opioid crisis. 

"So, we have all of these different emergencies we're dealing with on a daily basis, and [we're] still trying to deal with the opioid crisis as well," she said.

"Some communities are hit harder than others, but it's really sad that we continue to see these deaths."

with files from Daybreak North