Fatal drug overdoses falling across BC, but still high among First Nations

published on January 6, 2011

More than 900 BC residents died from accidental drug overdoses between 2001 and 2005, but the first Canadian study to examine such deaths showed that they fell by almost half in 2005.

The study, by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, also found that people from first nations accounted for a disproportionate number of fatal overdoses. While first nations only make up four per cent of the province’s population, their members accounted for nearly 12 per cent of deaths.

Thomas Kerr, co-author of the study and co-director of the centre’s Urban Health Research Initiative, said in an interview that a heroin “drought” from 2001 to 2003 may account for the decline in deaths early in the period studied. The trend continued after Insite, the Vancouver supervised-injection site, opened in 2003. As well, Kerr gives credit to regional health authorities for getting serious about “dramatically expanding” addiction treatment and harm-reduction programs.

While the drop in overdose deaths is encouraging, he said, the fact that 104 of the 909 dead were members of first nations is troubling. Kerr attributes that to poverty, substandard housing and education, and “incredible health disparities” between aboriginals and the rest of the population.

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