$20M committed to Indigenous communities in B.C. to address the ongoing opioid crisis

More than 55 First Nations communities and Indigenous organizations learned they’re getting funding for community-driven harm reduction initiatives this week.

Funding will be distributed via the First Nations Health Authority over the next 3 years

B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy announcing $20 million in funding to support Indigenous Peoples in B.C. to respond to the ongoing opioid crisis over the next three years. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

More than 55 B.C. First Nations communities and Indigenous organizations learned they're getting funding for community-driven harm reduction initiatives this week.

The funding is meant to support communities in addressing the ongoing opioid crisis in the province, which has affected First Nations people at a disproportionate rate in comparison to the general population.

So it's perhaps no surprise that when the call for applicants went out, the health authority received more than 180 applications for a share of the $2.4 million in funding that was made available.

The announcement of the successful applicants was made in Vancouver on Thursday during the B.C. First Nations Health Authority's first-ever mental health and wellness conference.

The $2.4 million is part of a larger commitment from the province to provide the First Nations Health Authority with $20 million over the next three years to address the ongoing opioid crisis.

"Our government is focused on trying to stem the tide of this overdose emergency," said Judy Darcy, B.C.'s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, in announcing the funding commitment.

The funding is part of an earlier commitment of $322 million to respond to the opioid crisis across the province.   

"Through this funding we will focus supports on services that are culturally safe for Indigenous communities. This is critically important because we know that Indigenous people are five times more likely to experience an overdose … and three times more likely to die of overdose," she said.

Several of those who have received funding for the community-driven harm reduction grants were in attendance at the health authority conference and a handful talked about the work they'll be doing during a breakout session on Thursday morning.

Harm reduction programs

"Our grant started out with the premise of disrupting the narrative of that because you have an addiction that you shouldn't be accessing culture, that you shouldn't be participating in ceremony," said Laura Hockman, who is the acting health director for the Splatsin Health Services.

Her community grant will be focused to develop capacity around holistic harm reduction.  

"[These grants] are going to make some really immediate impacts in all of our communities around the province," she told those in the room.

[These grants] are going to make some really immediate impacts....- Laura Hockman

Other grants will go toward projects like supporting youth to promote harm reduction among their peers and supporting a men's group through the Southern Stl'atl'imx Health Society.

The First Nations Health Authority recognizes that many communities and organizations were not able to secure funding in this round of applications.

"Because of the demand, what we're considering is how do we deal with the communities that weren't funded in this round, so we are looking at options for that, because one of our seven directives is really to leave no communities behind," said Richard Jock, chief operating officer of the health authority.