The Cedar Project: mortality among young Indigenous people who use drugs in British Columbia

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Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Young Indigenous people, particularly those involved in the child welfare system, those entrenched in substance use and those living with HIV or hepatitis C, are dying prematurely. We report mortality rates among young Indigenous people who use drugs in British Columbia and explore predictors of mortality over time.

METHODS:

We analyzed data collected every 6 months between 2003 and 2014 by the Cedar Project, a prospective cohort study involving young Indigenous people who use illicit drugs in Vancouver and Prince George, BC. We calculated age-standardized mortality ratios using Indigenous and Canadian reference populations. We identified predictors of mortality using time-dependent Cox proportional hazard regression.

RESULTS:

Among 610 participants, 40 died between 2003 and 2014, yielding a mortality rate of 670 per 100 000 person-years. Young Indigenous people who used drugs were 12.9 (95% confidence interval [CI] 9.2–17.5) times more likely to die than all Canadians the same age and were 7.8 (95% CI 5.6–10.6) times more likely to die than Indigenous people with Status in BC. Young women and those using drugs by injection were most affected. The leading causes of death were overdose (n = 15 [38%]), illness (n = 11 [28%]) and suicide (n = 5 [12%]). Predictors of mortality included having hepatitis C at baseline (adjusted hazard ratio [HR] 2.76, 95% CI 1.47–5.16), previous attempted suicide (adjusted HR 1.88, 95% CI 1.01–3.50) and recent overdose (adjusted HR 2.85, 95% CI 1.00–8.09).

INTERPRETATION:

Young Indigenous people using drugs in BC are dying at an alarming rate, particularly young women and those using injection drugs. These deaths likely reflect complex intersections of historical and present-day injustices, substance use and barriers to care.

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