Cheyenne Johnson and Dr. Nel Wieman: Ending the toxic drug crisis means addressing racism, colonialism and the root causes of substance use

published on September 1, 2021 by Cheyenne Johnson and Nel Wieman in The Province

This week, on International Overdose Awareness Day, communities across B.C. and Canada commemorated the thousands of lives lost to drug poisoning — and called for action to end policies that are creating harms around the world.

Here in B.C., Tuesday was the sixth International Overdose Awareness Day since the province declared the toxic drug crisis a public health emergency. Over 7,000 people have died of a toxic drug poisoning since that declaration, with no end in sight. In fact, that same day B.C.’s chief coroner shared that the first six months of 2021 have been the deadliest on record.

Amongst those most impacted are First Nations people, who accounted for nearly 15 per cent of all toxic drug deaths last year, although we represent only 3.3 per cent of B.C.’s total population.

According to First Nations Health Authority data, 254 First Nations individuals died from toxic drugs in 2020, nearly a 120 per cent increase compared with 2019. COVID-19 has exacerbated overdose deaths in B.C. First Nations communities, and we are now seeing the highest rates since 2015…

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