Study finds ‘alarming rate’ of OD deaths among young Indigenous people in B.C.

Indigenous people are 13 more times likely to die of drug OD related deaths

Indigenous drug users in British Columbia are 13 times more likely to die compared with other Canadians of the same age, says a decade-long study calling for cultural connections as a path to healing deep-rooted pain.

The study conducted by the Cedar Project Partnership of First Nations groups and researchers included 610 Indigenous people who smoked or injected drugs in Vancouver and Prince George and were between the ages of 14 and 30.

Forty people died during the study period between 2003 and 2014, and 65 per cent of them were women, says the study published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

READ: B.C. hits record number of illicit drug overdose deaths : coroner

“The death rates among young Indigenous people who use drugs reported in this study are appalling and must be viewed as a public health and human rights issue,” the study says.

An additional 26 participants have died since the research was completed, and 15 of them had overdosed. Illness — including hepatitis C and HIV — and suicide were the next causes of death, it says.

The ongoing Cedar Project is based at the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute and has been examining links between historical traumas, such as residential schools, childhood sexual abuse and child welfare systems, on HIV and hepatitis C infection among young Indigenous drug users.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia, the University of Northern British Columbia, the Vancouver Native Health Society and the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network were among those involved in the study.

“It is possible that some of the overdoses observed were in fact suicides,” it says, adding previous findings by the Cedar Project indicate trauma affecting generations of Indigenous people may lead to “rejection of life itself.”

Suicide prevention must include a holistic approach to mental well-being that incorporates Indigenous culture, including ceremony and traditional languages, the study says.

“Indigenous leaders in Canada are concerned that their young people are dying prematurely, particularly those involved in the child welfare system, those entrenched in substance use and those living with HIV or hepatitis C.”

Researcher Dr. Martin Schechter, a professor in the school of population and public health at the University of British Columbia, said autonomy among First Nations communities to promote health within their own culture is a crucial need to protect young people.

“Our research has also shown that people in the Cedar cohort who reported more contact with Indigenous culture by attending ceremonies or speaking the native language, those people were more resilient, had less risk than people who didn’t,” he said.

The study shows women are using more drugs, perhaps as a form of self-medication, to cope with childhood trauma, Schechter said.

“It seems like trauma, and historical trauma, is having more of an effect on the young women than the men.”

Karen Urbanoski, a scientist at the Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia, said in a related commentary in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that the findings point to the need for tailored services and policies for Indigenous people, who have poorer health, on average, than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

“First Nations, Metis and Inuit people in Canada also carry a disproportionate burden of the harms related to substance use,” she said, adding there’s evidence people who identify as Indigenous are less likely to receive treatment for substance use and those who access it are likely to drop out.

In August, the First Nations Health Authority released data suggesting Indigenous people of all ages are five times more likely to overdose and three times more likely to die from overdose than others.

Dr. Shannon McDonald, deputy chief medical officer of the health authority, said a significant number of youth in the study were specifically identified as having been in the child welfare system.

“The rates of apprehension are very high among First Nations and Aboriginal people so many of these people have never had the opportunity to be connected,” she said.

McDonald said First Nations groups are working hard on community-led, community-designed programs, especially for youth who have been separated from families and communities for most of their lives.

— Follow @CamilleBains1 on Twitter.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

This photo of approximately 10 years ago shows Laureen Fabian, on the left, and daughter Caterina Andrews. Fabian went missing last October and her daughter is looking for answers. (Contributed photo)
Laureen Fabian’s disappearance remains a mystery

It’s been a year since she went missing

Adam Schmidt is currently at the BC Children’s Hospital. (GoFundMe/Laurel Miller)
Community comes together for a 15 year old Burns Laker admitted at BC Children’s hospital

A fundraising campaign to support the family is being run now

Last year’s Halloween saw a sunny day and in-person costume contests. (Blair McBride photo)
What’s Burns Lakes’ spooktacular plan for this Halloween?

Trick or treating, online contests and more for this season

WKE students pose with carpentry tools in front of the ADST trailer that will allow the school to have a fully operational mobile wood shop. (Karen Ware photo/Lakes District News)
William Konkin Elementary school undertakes project to teach intentional kindness

Students to learn to build crates, grow produce and share it with community

Daylight savings time ends at 2:00 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 1 2020. (File Photo)
Clocks ‘fall back’ one hour Saturday night

Remember to set your clock back one hour on Saturday night, as… Continue reading

Burnaby RCMP responded to a dine-and-dash suspect who fell through a ceiling in March 2020. (RCMP handout)
VIDEO: Suspected dine-and-dasher falls through ceiling of Burnaby restaurant

A woman believed to be dashing on her restaurant bill fell through the kitchen ceiling

Hirdeypal Batth, 24, has been charged with sexual assault and forcible confinement in relation to an incident in August 2020. (VPD handout)
Man, 24, charged with sex assault after allegedly posing as fake Uber driver in Vancouver

Investigators believe there could be more victims outside of the Vancouver area

B.C. Premier John Horgan and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee arrive for annual Cascadia conference in Vancouver, Oct. 10, 2018. They have agreed to coordinate the permanent switch to daylight saving time. (B.C. government)
B.C. still awaiting U.S. approval to eliminate daylight saving time

Clocks going back one hour Nov. 1 in Washington too

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Sen. Kim Pate is shown in Toronto in an October 15, 2013, file photo. The parliamentary budget office says a proposed law that would give judges discretion on whether to apply a lesser sentence for murder could save the federal government $8.3 million per year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
Judicial discretion for mandatory minimum sentences for murder would save $8.3M: PBO

The result would be fewer people in long-term custody at federal correctional institutions, experts say

Commissioner Austin Cullen looks at documents before opening statements at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia, in Vancouver on February 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
RCMP lacked dedicated team to investigate illegal activities at casino, inquiry hears

Hearings for the inquiry are set to continue into next week and the inquiry is expected to wrap up next year

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)
Court approves money for B.C. foster children alleging harm from Kelowna social worker

The maximum combined total award for basic payments and elevated damages for an individual is $250,000

Most Read