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.
She says the death rate began to rise after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a public health emergency.
Wieman says systemic racism is one of the barriers to accessing culturally safe mental health and addiction treatment and harm reduction services.
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.