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Dr. Shannon McDonald says the most important tool for keeping people well is making sure they have connection to family, community and services — which could mean clean drug supply, overdose prevention sites and having overdose treatment kits like Naloxone widely available. (Patrick Semansky/AP) Fighting the opioid crisis in Indigenous communities remains an uphill battle, says a senior health officer with the First Nations Health Authority.

Despite increased efforts in outreach and education, Indigenous people remain at greater risk of experiencing and dying from an overdose, says Dr. Shannon McDonald, deputy chief medical health officer with the authority.

"We’re not winning the race," McDonald told On the Coast host Gloria Macarenko.

McDonald’s comments come shortly after the First Nations Health Authority’s Indigenous wellness team held a public seminar on harm reduction surrounding drug use, part of a continued effort by the authority to fight the opioid crisis.

The seminar, one in an ongoing series in partnership with the University of British Columbia Learning Circle at the Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health, was held through video conference and made available as a web seminar in order to include people from across the province. ‘First Nations are disproportionately impacted’

A joint report by the B.C. Coroners Service and the First Nations Health Authority in summer 2017 found status First Nations people were five times more likely to experience an overdose, and three times more likely to die from one.

"We know that First Nations are disproportionately impacted … We need to work really hard to make sure people have the advantage of every service that is available to them," McDonald said.

She says there is a strong connection between a history of trauma in people’s lives and their likelihood of having a substance use disorder, and historic trauma has impacted many Indigenous families and communities. Poverty and lack of housing in First Nations communities also impact many people’s ability to be healthy. Dr. Shannon McDonald from First Nations Health authority during the data release in 2018 on how the overdose crisis in B.C. has affected First Nations. (Farrah Merali/CBC) Responding to the crisis

The seminar focused on the stigma experienced by Indigenous people who use illicit substances and alcohol, which McDonald says is part of the uphill fight. It also touched on ways Indigenous communities can respond to the crisis.

Potential methods included having a clean drug supply, overdose prevention sites and having Naloxone overdose treatment kits widely accessible in communities with trained people available to offer support.

McDonald says the authority’s Indigenous wellness team has been travelling to First Nations communities across B.C. — but as there are so many, their web seminars and computer-based learning have been great ways of reaching people they cannot visit in person.

"Not only does it allow us to reach people who have not heard these messages before, but it helps us to reinforce people who have heard the message before and help them to know that they’re on the right track and doing good work," she said.

Listen to the full interview here:

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