Overdose Awareness: Women’s Awareness

International Overdose Awareness Women and Mothers

As we make our way transitioning into a new normal, we continue to see the impacts of what COVID-19 is having on our Women and Mothers. Women represent a large portion of the caring, clerical and cleaning occupations and represent 70% of all the job losses in Canada (Feminist Recovery, 2020). Women are the primary caregivers and domestic managers in their home. The growing isolation also is impacting women as they cannot engage in their critical community connection work. The loss of women being able to gather is a loss of a sustainable ways to provide violence prevention and support for women. Further, women and mothers experiencing substance use disorders experience increased barriers accessing supports for their recovery and to support connection to community and culturally relevant wellness.

Women are greatly impacted by the Overdose (Poisoning) Crisis in diverse ways that include the experiences of the loss of a loved one, generally a child or spouse to the overdose crisis to experiences of being substance users themselves. We know from data collected by First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) that First Nations people experience overdose events 5 times greater than non-Indigenous and death three times greater than non-Indigenous populations. Unlike, non-Indigenous populations (men 71% and women 29%) the Opioid Emergency equally affects First Nations men (52%) and women (48%). These numbers alone serve well to demonstrate an urgency in implementing strong networked recovery oriented, trauma informed programs that are culturally relevant.
The impact of the Opioid Crisis on Indigenous women and people reaches beyond just overdose events and deaths. The impact of the Crisis for Indigenous people has roots in the ongoing systemic and structural violence Indigenous bodies experience in British Columbia and Canada, including high rates of child apprehension, incarceration and criminalization, experiences of homelessness, substance use disorders and mental health challenges. Specifically, for Indigenous women, Métis and self-identified Indigenous who share an invisibility status among Indigenous populations, the impacts of the Opioid Crisis are far reaching, beyond the grief of a losing a child or spouse to an overdose death, there is the fear that if the woman reaches out for help with their Substance Use they will be further criminalized and their family structure and unity will be devastated by the involvement of the State and likely child apprehension.

The stigma associated with substance use during pregnancy has led to punitive approaches both from professionals and communities when working with women. These approaches include coerced sterilization, mother, child, family and community separation, increased surveillance, and requirements for stricter levels of compliance. Many women know if they disclose they live with a Substance Use issue and are seeking help managing their concern they will face one or many of these punitive approaches. As Service Providers, Policy Makers and Community Leaders we have a responsibility to be aware of the lack of safety for Women and Mothers in accessing Mental Health and Substance Use Services and Programs and we have to work toward creating spaces of that support women without judgement and meet them where they are at as a form of wise practice that works toward keeping families and ultimately Indigenous Nations together.

August 31st, International Overdose Awareness Day is our opportunity to stand up, get loud and reclaim our Sisters, Our Mothers and our Children. We can do this by applying the Principles of the Métis Wellness Wheel and through tradition, unity, acceptance, attitude, reclaiming, resilience and inclusion we will reclaim our Sisters, Our Mothers and Our Children.

Links to helpful resources:

Toward the Heart is a one stop resource for all matters Harm Reduction, including training and knowledge of Naloxone distribution sites.

Health Care Pregnancy Program launched by BC Association of Pregnancy Outreach Programs

Mothering and Opioids: Addressing Stigma – Acting Collaboratively Toolkit