Supplies like clean needles are available at the Overdose Prevention Society’s safe-injection site. (John Lehmann/Photo for The Washington Post)

First Nation chiefs call for B.C. to declare state of emergency over opioid crisis

Union of BC Indian Chiefs says the overdose epidemic hits Indigenous people especially hard

Indigenous leaders in B.C. are calling for the province to escalate its response to the opioid crisis in First Nations communities and recognize it as a state of emergency similar to during floods and wildfires.

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs this week said overdose deaths are devastating its people. The most recent data, released more than a year ago by the BC Coroners Service, found that Indigenous people are three times more likely to die from an overdose than the rest of British Columbians.

“While the opioid crisis has affected every region of Canada, British Columbia tops the four regions hardest hit, with First Nations people facing the brunt of the impacts,” said Judy Wilson, the union’s secretary-treasurer.

The B.C. government, under the BC Liberal Party in 2016, declared the sudden increase in overdoses the province’s first-ever public health emergency, allowing more immediate data collection of fatal overdoses and quicker responses on the frontlines.

READ MORE: First Nations people in B.C. three times more likely to die of overdose

Wilson said First Nations people are twice as likely to be dispensed an opioid than non-First Nations, and overdoses are reported every two hours on some reserves.

“These statistics are completely unacceptable, and B.C. must immediately act or be held accountable and liable for their inaction.”

The council is also urging the province to launch a public inquiry into influences of international organized crime, including money laundering, on the crisis.

The Ministry of Health has not yet returned a request for comment.

READ MORE: B.C. moves closer to money laundering public inquiry; feds vow ‘crack down’


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