B.C. First Nations Health Authority secures $2.5M for research into harm reduction for opioid use

The B.C. First Nations Health Authority has secured a $2.5 million grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to identify promising models for harm reduction services for opioid use in First Nations communities across the province.

First Nations disproportionately impacted by the opioid crisis in B.C.

A registered nurse holds a tray of supplies to be used at a supervised injection clinic in Vancouver. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The B.C. First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) has secured a $2.5 million grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to identify promising models for harm reduction services for opioid use in First Nations communities across the province.

In the summer of 2017 a joint report from the B.C. Coroners Service and the FNHA found Status First Nations people were five times more likely to experience an overdose, and three times more likely to die from one.

According to the health authority's abstract submitted to the CIHR, "an Indigenous approach to harm reduction for opioid use has not been studied extensively, and there is limited literature on community-based harm reduction practices for First Nations in Canada."

The FNHA plans to document and assess existing community-based approaches, so they can be included in the medical literature around evidence-based approaches to harm reduction.

"This project is innovative and the first of its kind, drawing on the strengths of First Nations perspectives to do community-based harm reduction research," said Sonia Isaac-Mann, the FNHA's vice president of programs and services, in a news release.

The $2.5 million grant is the largest of its kind that the health authority has received to date.

5-year project

Researchers from several education institutions and health organizations will work alongside First Nations communities on the five-year project.

It will start with a deep dive into existing research, combined with a collection of firsthand testimonies from Indigenous people who use drugs and other knowledge keepers.

The second part of the study will focus on five community-based harm reduction projects in First Nations communities across the five health regions. 

"These five community-based research projects will contribute to a sorely-needed evidence base," the FNHA wrote in a release.

Andrea Medley and Len Pierre of the First Nations Health Authority talk about what harm reduction can look like through an Indigenous lens at the mental health and wellness conference in Vancouver on Feb. 7. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

More than 55 Indigenous communities received funding for community-driven harm reduction initiatives in February, taking a share of $2.4 million in funding from the province to help respond to the opioid crisis.

2 years since public health emergency declared

Former Provincial Medical Health Officer Perry Kendall declared a public health emergency in B.C. in 2016 due to the spike in overdoses and deaths. It remains in effect.

In 2017 a total of 1,451 people died from an illicit drug overdose in B.C. The coroners service has reported 742 deaths so far in 2018.

Fentanyl continues to be detected in the vast majority of these overdose deaths, according to the coroners service preliminary findings.