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Over the past 2 years, there has been a noticeable increase of opioid related stories appearing in Canadian media, but there is still quite a way to go for the nation to truly understand the severity of this opioid crisis, which is still ravaging communities today. While this uptake in media attention has been beneficial on many fronts, it can glare over the fact that the opioid crisis has been a prominent issue within Indigenous communities for far longer than the headlines demonstrate.

In the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation in northern Ontario, it is reported that the legal use of prescription opioids is higher here than anywhere else, with over half of all residents from the 49 different communities displaying signs of opioid use disorder, prompting community chiefs to call for a prescription drug abuse state of emergency in as early as 2009. [1] Furthermore, in 2007, Ontario’s Non-Insured Health Benefits reported 898 opioid prescriptions written per every 1,000 Indigenous patients – which is significantly higher than the general population, at 591 per 1,000 patients. [1]

In an effort to generate awareness and further educate the general population on the dangers of illicit and prescription opioids, the OACP launched an online initiative serving as a digital PSA. [2] 

Ontario is not alone. A report from the Government of Alberta highlighted the rate of opioid prescriptions among indigenous communities as double the rate of other population groups. [3] Going even further westward, indigenous peoples in British Columbia are 5 times more likely to experience an opioid overdose than non-indigenous peoples. [4]

While each provincial government will table their own initiatives for opioid overdose prevention, the Ontario Government has already announced its plan to invest $20 million over two years for specialized support for indigenous communities and developmentally appropriate care for youth. This funding will help to provide the necessary education and resources for communities to protect themselves, including a focus on the proper training and administration of naloxone. [5]

It’s a step in the right direction, but with indigenous communities particularly hard hit, it’s just one of many that needs to be addressed. Ensuring that police forces serving these communities have the appropriate tools, such as naloxone, to combat the crisis, is an integral part of quelling the surge of opioid related overdoses and deaths indigenous communities have been faced with for years.

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[1] TVO.org: Why are doctors overprescribing opioids for Indigenous patients? (2017). Available at: http://tvo.org/article/current-affairs/shared-values/why-are-doctors-overprescribing-opioids-for-indigenous-patients. Accessed October 2017.

[2] The Globe and Mail: OPP join fentanyl awareness campaign on social media (2016). Available at: https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/opp-join-fentanyl-awareness-campaign-on-social-media/article33402743/?ref=http://www.theglobeandmail.com&. Accessed October 2017.

[3] First Nations—Health Trends Alberta (2016). Available at: http://www.afnigc.ca/main/includes/media/pdf/fnhta/HTAFN-2016-08-30-Opioid.pdf. Accessed October 2017.

[5] Government of Ontario: Ontario Providing Support to Those Affected by Opioid Crisis (2017). Available at:  https://news.ontario.ca/mohltc/en/2017/08/ontario-providing-support-to-those-affected-by-opioid-crisis.html. Accessed October 2017.