Canada Study shows abnormal overdose and suicide rates among young female Indigenous drug users

15:05  06 november  2017
15:05  06 november  2017 Source:   Vancouver Sun

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Young Indigenous drug users are 13 times more likely to die than others in their age group, and women make up more than half of the deaths, according to a study that monitored more than 600 young people in Vancouver and Prince George over 12 years.

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Young Indigenous drug users are 13 times more likely to die than others in their age group, and women make up more than half of the deaths, according to a study that monitored more than 600 young people in Vancouver and Prince George over 12 years.

Forty of the participants died between 2003 and 2014, mostly from overdose, illness and suicide, according to the Cedar Project Partnership study conducted by a team of researchers and published today in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Twice as many females as males died during the study, which concluded before drug deaths attributed to a proliferation of fentanyl in the province rose dramatically. (Since the study ended, another 26 participants died and 16 of them were girls or women.)

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VANCOUVER — 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.

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“That’s quite significant,” said Splatsin Indian Band Chief Wayne Christian, who was co-principal investigator on the project. “They’re not just numbers. These are our relatives, our daughters, our sisters, our mothers, our aunties. These are real people.”

Santanna Scott-Huntinghawk died from an overdose at age 19 in a tent in Surrey in December, 2016. Scott-Huntinghawk was Aboriginal and lived in foster homes. It is not known whether Scott-Huntinghawk was part of the study, but her sister Savannah told Postmedia that her sister’s death was due to fentanyl and an ill-equipped child welfare system. 

Researchers, including from the University of B.C. and the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network, examined data on 610 Indigenous people between the ages of 14 and 30 who used drugs in Vancouver and Prince George.

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Among those who died during the study, 38 per cent died from overdoses, 28 per cent from illness and 12 per cent committed suicide.

Although in B.C.’s general population more males than females die from overdoses, women made up 75 per cent of the deaths in the study from overdose and illness and 80 per cent of the suicides.

In the Cedar Project, almost half of the participants reported that either parent had attended a residential school, two-thirds had been removed from their biological parents, and almost half had been sexually abused as children.

The results weren’t surprising to Christian.

“It produced evidence-based research of what we already know,” he said.

He said five decades of “colonial practices” such as residential schools and removing Indigenous children from their families is still being felt in Indigenous communities.

And treatment for Indigenous drug users has to involve Indigenous cultural practices and healing trauma from childhood sexual abuse.

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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 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.

“The child welfare system has to change,” said Christian, and First Nations have to have jurisdiction over the welfare of their children.

Sonia Isaac-Mann, a researcher with the First Nations Health Authority, agreed that “culture has to be a foundation of treatment” in a more holistic-based approach that employs traditional healers to address the underlying issues that plague Indigenous youth.

She said last year the health authority set up a crisis line staffed by Indigenous peers and has implemented a suicide critical response team in northern regions. The health authority runs 10 Indigenous treatment centres provincewide but none in Metro Vancouver.

“It’s about instilling culture, self-esteem, identity, pride in their culture and connection with their elders,” Isaac-Mann said.

The Cedar Project results shows “it’s clear change is way overdue,” said Karen Urbanoski of the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C. at the University of Victoria.

“It’s more than just incorporating Indigenous spiritual practices into existing treatment programs.”

She said the way Indigenous nations are governed under the Indian Act has to change if there’s going to be any progress.

“Some of the problems have to do with substance abuse but there are Indigenous communities that don’t have access to potable water or inexpensive groceries,” she said.

Other studies have shown Indigenous communities with self-governance and who identify more with culturally based practices “have lower suicide rates than other communities that do not have support structures in place,” she said.

The Cedar Project was conducted by researchers from the University of B.C., Canadian HIV Trials Network, Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network, B.C. Children’s Hospital Research Institute, Vancouver Native Health Society, Vancouver General Hospital and the University of Northern B.C. in Prince George.

slazaruk@postmedia.com

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