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Toxic drug deaths surge among B.C. Indigenous people

A paramedic tends to an overdose patient in the St. Paul’s Hospital ambulance bay. Simon Little / Global News

British Columbia’s First Nations Health Authority says Indigenous people accounted for nearly 15 per cent of all toxic drug deaths last year although they represent just 3.3 per cent of the province’s total population.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr. Nel Wieman says 254 Indigenous people died from overdoses last year, which is nearly a 120 per cent increase from 2019.

Read more: Nearly 500 in B.C. died of an overdose in first three months of 2021, coroner reports

She says the death rate began to rise after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a public health emergency.

Click to play video: 'B.C. marks five years since overdose crisis public health emergency declaration' B.C. marks five years since overdose crisis public health emergency declaration
B.C. marks five years since overdose crisis public health emergency declaration – Apr 14, 2021

Wieman says systemic racism is one of the barriers to accessing culturally safe mental health and addiction treatment and harm reduction services.

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Read more: First Nations Health Authority sees spike in overdose deaths among Indigenous people

In order to combat the problem, the health authority has launched a range of treatment and healing options and supported expanded access to prescription alternatives.

There were 1,716 overdose deaths in B.C. last year, a record death toll amid the pandemic, where border closures disrupted the usual flow of illicit drugs and more toxic substances took their place.

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