Indigenous Voices on the Toxic Drug Crisis in B.C.

July 23, 2021. Article by: Government of B.C.

Indigenous people are dying at a disproportionate rate from overdose compared to other populations in British Columbia – the large gap in death rates between First Nations individuals and other B.C. residents is now wider than it has ever been. Having conversations about substance use, addiction, and overdose have never been more important than they are right now.

Sharing openly about experiences and encouraging people to seek support can save lives.

The First Nation’s Health Authority is working to amplify Indigenous voices through a harm reduction campaign about the toxic drug crisis in B.C. – focusing on preventing overdose, safer drug use, accessible treatment, and support on the journey of healing. Experiences are shared along with the current reality of overdose for Indigenous people in the province and how to get support.

Saige and John are among those sharing their stories.

Watch Saige talk about the toxic drug crisis in B.C.

Saige – from the Lutselk’e Dene Nation – used to live in the Downtown Eastside and speaks about her experience of having an overdose and trying to access support in a hospital setting.

Saige says that she was overlooked and faced a lot of stigma – assumptions were made about her as an Indigenous person, instead of being viewed as a “whole” person. She says people who use drugs should be treated as humans, and deserve to be supported, cared for and loved. They need others to be there – not leave them behind or give up on them. They need access to compassionate services.

Just because someone uses substances does not mean they don’t deserve to have their needs met.





Saige learned from her own experiences and turned her pain into passion. She now works in harm reduction with Indigenous youth. She emphasizes the need for Indigenous people to learn about these topics and have open conversations to increase awareness about drug use and staying safer.

Seeing other successful people inspires her and she says more Indigenous people need to get into this field, “the change starts with us”.

What helped in my healing journey was looking up to other Indigenous people.


Watch John talk about the toxic drug crisis in B.C.

Growing up, John of the Wolf Clan – from the Tutshone, Tlingit, and Dene Nation – explains that his experiences taught him he was “no good” and that he wouldn’t amount to anything. He dealt with the traumatic things he went through by using drugs and alcohol.

He says that now when he works with others who may be struggling, he uses humour to connect. John also tells them that he knows where they are coming from because he was there himself. When he had an opportunity to begin to live a different kind of life, he took it. He now wants to be that opportunity for others. A way to find support.

I care for you and I love you…you’re a human being, and there’s people out there that love you.




John wants people who are experiencing challenges with substance use to know that he’s here for you if you need someone. He says you can also connect with your community and culture for help.

Watch the other impactful stories from Indigenous people in B.C.

Where to find help

If you need support, reach out to someone you know. The first step for many people is talking to a friend, family member, or someone in your community.

There is an extremely toxic drug supply circulating in B.C. If you or someone you know uses drugs, visit an overdose prevention or supervised consumption service near you, get a free Naloxone kit, and use with a buddy. Use the Lifeguard app if you are alone.

Find more ways to stay safer when using drugs, including supports and services. You can also:

  • Call the Alcohol and Drug Referral Service at 1-800-663-1441 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) for free, confidential information and referral services.
  • Call 8-1-1 for non-emergency health information, including how to access alternatives to the toxic drug supply and supportive recovery services. You can call from anywhere in B.C. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


If you suspect an overdose, call 9-1-1 right away.