The B.C. government is providing $20 million over the next three years to address the unique needs of Indigenous communities dealing with drug addiction.
Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy announced the new fund in Vancouver Thursday, to be delivered by the First Nations Health Authority to bolster the efforts of the B.C. government and regional health authorities.
Indigenous people are five times more likely to experience a drug overdose than the general population, and three times more likely to die, Darcy said.
Dr. Shannon McDonald, acting chief medical officer for the FNHA, said Indigenous women are at greater risk than other women. In the general population, 80 per cent of overdoses are men, mostly younger men. But in Indigenous communities it is a 50-50 split, with overdoses happening among pre-teens and women in their 70s.
“Many experience overdose away from home, away from the judgmental eyes of the people who love them,” McDonald said.
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Darcy said the money will be administered by the FNHA, with $4 million in the fiscal year starting April 1, and $8 million in each of the next two years. Some will be allocated to harm reduction and outreach efforts in urban communities.
McDonald said there will be 55 community-led harm reduction programs, including “back-to-the-land therapeutic camps.” Training to administer the anti-overdose drug naloxone will be expanded from the current 123 communities to more than 200, and the current 86 naloxone distribution sites administered by FNHA is to increase to more than 120.
Grand Chief Doug Kelly, chair of the First Nations Health Council, said when the organization was established seven years ago, chiefs called for it to increase local decision-making.
“This investment gives our communities and caregivers opportunities to design initiatives and services to help our citizens heal,” Kelly said.
The FNHA has created its own website with overdose information, in addition to the B.C. government’s online resource.