The Canadian government is for the first time tracking the number of opioid overdoses on First Nation reserves, but the minister in charge of Indigenous health services says so far the data is incomplete and a struggle to obtain.
“This is a new concept,” Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott said in an interview with CBC News. “It has never been done before.”
Health Canada and the former Indigenous and Northern Affairs department, which was split into two departments last month, initially said they didn’t track opioid overdoses on reserves.
But numbers provided to CBC show the health department began keeping tabs on the situation this spring.
Data comes from remote communities
Health Canada says it initially contacted to 155 First Nations communities and 153 are now providing information. That only represents about 40 per cent of First Nations communities and excludes British Columbia and the North.
B.C. has its own, more comprehensive, reporting system that includes First Nations people in urban areas, but it too has gaps.
Citing privacy, the federal government wouldn’t reveal which First Nation reserves it’s working with, but said the list mainly includes remote and isolated communities.
Since May 8, 13 suspected opioid overdoses on reserves have been logged with Health Canada, including two fatal cases, but the department concedes the number understates the scope of the opioid overdose situation affecting First Nations communities.
Philpott said some communities have been hesitant to share information because of stigma and the sensitive nature of the topic.
“We know the data is incomplete,” Philpott said.
People are ‘looking for a cheap way to manage pain’
– Isadore Day, Ontario Regional Chief
Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day, who is national chair of the Assembly of First Nations chiefs’ committee on health, said he’s been hearing about opioid misuse on reserves for more than a decade.
“The issue of…