The First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) released data showing that First Nations peoples, particularly First Nations and Aboriginal women, are overrepresented in the current BC overdose public health emergency. This data, paired with stories from communities, presents an urgent need for action.

There have been many characterizations of this crisis. I would encourage our family members, community leaders, and health system partners to join me in recognizing this as a pain problem rather than a drug problem. The pain is sometimes physical and more often spiritual or emotional. This pain is being compounded by the conditions in which many of our citizens are living.

It is often said that a society can be measured by how it treats citizens living in vulnerable conditions. Evidence shows that First Nations and Aboriginal people, especially those who are using substances, are less likely to seek medically necessary treatment because they have experienced discrimination and stigma. As Deputy Chief Medical Officer, I encourage my colleagues working in health and social services, and all BC residents, to learn more about the historic and current root causes of substance use among Aboriginal people.

A compassionate approach

A harm-reduction approach is based on unconditional love for people who use substances. Shame and stigma can further contribute to substance use, rather than supporting resolution. There are actions that we can take today. As health care providers we can respond to this crisis from a place of humility. We can recognize that as well-trained as we are, we don’t have all the answers. We can commit to improving health services and ensuring that they are culturally safe and respectful, free of racism and discrimination, and inclusive of First Nations’ perspectives on wellness such as traditional healing practices.

The FNHA supports this harm-reduction approach to the overdose crisis. Along with our health governance partners — the First Nations Health Council and the First Nations Health Directors Association — we call on all British Columbians to join us on a journey towards a more understanding and compassionate society, one based in respect and kindness.

Learn more about Cultural Humility and Cultural Safety in BC Health Services at:

Find out more overdose related information from the FNHA at: