Ni tsun hwule'lum'ut ch' I take notice of you (I care)
About the Opioid Overdose Crisis
A Worsening Crisis
The opioid overdose crisis was declared a public health emergency in B.C. in 2016. It has continued to get worse since then, with a major increase in overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic. In June alone, 175 people in B.C. died from opioid overdoses. Cowichan Tribes is mourning the loss of seven Members to opioid overdoses since October 2019, and several Members have been hospitalized and survived.
According to Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Provincial Health Officer:
- Most overdose deaths happen when people use drugs at home, alone. When they overdose there is no one to call for help.
- In many overdose deaths, the family and friends of people who died did not know they were using drugs.
The overdose crisis is hitting First Nations communities the hardest. According to the First Nations Health Authority:
- First Nations overdose deaths almost doubled between January and May 2020.
- First Nations people are dying at fare higher rates than non-Indigenous people. First Nations people make up 3.3 per cent of B.C.’s population, yet 16 per cent of overdose deaths between January and May 2020 were First Nations people.
- From January to May 2020, the rate of overdose deaths in BC was 380 per cent higher among First Nations people than among non-Indigenous people.
- First Nations women experience very high rates of overdose. From January to May 2020, the rate of overdose deaths among First Nations women in B.C. was 870 per cent higher than non-Indigenous women.
Lack of Treatment & Recovery Resources
Although the overdose crisis was declared a public health emergency four years ago, access to opioid addiction treatment and recovery services in B.C. remains inadequate. Access to culturally safe treatment and recovery services for First Nations people is even worse. The B.C. Government recently announced funding for 123 additional treatment beds, but that is just a fraction of what’s needed.
Cowichan Tribes is continuing with efforts underway since 2016 and advocating to the B.C. Government to increase investments in addiction treatment, recovery, and mental health services, including culturally safe supports for First Nations people.
Why is the Drug Supply so Toxic and Deadly?
In the early 2010s, organized crime groups and drug dealers began adding extremely powerful synthetic opioids to the drug supply, including fentanyl and carfentanil. Fentanyl is 100 times more powerful than morphine. Carfentanil is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine and 100 times more powerful than fentanyl. Carfentanil is so powerful that even just touching it is dangerous.
Fentanyl and carfentanil are being added to all types of drugs including heroin, cocaine, crystal meth, ecstasy, and other illegal drugs. The risk of overdose and death is extremely high for all illegal drugs.
Because of fentanyl and carfentanil’s extreme strength, it is impossible for drug dealers to mix these synthetic opioids with other drugs at accurate and consistent levels. The addition of fentanyl and carfentanil to the drug supply has caused a major increase in overdose deaths.
Why has the Overdose Crisis Worsened During the COVID-19 pandemic?
Border closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have disrupted international drug trafficking supply chains. Because of this disruption, organized crime groups and drug dealers here in Canada are mixing more dangerous additives to the drugs they sell. This has caused the supply of illegal drugs to become even more poisonous, unpredictable, and deadly.
Also, COVID-19 guidelines to stay home and avoid social contact have led to an increase in people using drugs at home, alone, where there is no one to call for help or give Naloxone when they overdose. This has also contributed to the rise in overdose deaths.
We remind Cowichan Tribes Members that it is important that you don’t use drugs alone. Use at the Overdose Prevention Site (221 Trunk Rd.) or where there someone who can call for help if you overdose. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic it is safer to use in the company of someone who is in your bubble or who you trust than to use alone. COVID-19 safety measures including physical distancing are in place at the Overdose Prevention Site.