VANCOUVER -- A new report from Fraser Health shows that overdose deaths for South Asian people increased by almost 300 per cent between 2015 and 2018, compared to a 138 per cent increase for non-South Asian people living in the region covered by the health authority.

The Fraser Health report, released Friday, looks at three distinct populations – South Asians, young people and women – to try to get a better sense of what was happening in people’s lives before they died.

An ongoing opioid overdose crisis has killed thousands of British Columbians since 2015, when overdose deaths began to rise. After making headway in reducing the number of overdose deaths, fatality rates once again rose during the COVID-19 pandemic, and May was the deadliest month on record for overdoses.

Fraser Health researchers say the data they looked at suggests South Asian people are more likely to die from an overdose than people who are not South Asian: there were 186 fatal overdoses out of 1,000 overdoses among South Asian people, compared to 110 fatal overdoses out of 1,000 overdoses for non-South Asians.

The data shows that South Asian men are particularly at risk: 97 per cent of the South Asians who died of an overdose were men, compared to 81 per cent for non-South Asians who died.

Alcohol was the most commonly used substance among the South Asian group the Fraser Health researchers studied, but often alcohol use overlapped with opioid or cocaine. But only one in three of the people in the South Asian study group had gotten treatment for their addiction, and their families often didn’t know or didn’t acknowledge their illicit substance use.

“Many families only wanted a few individuals to know that the reason for hospitalization was overdose,” the report says. “This information was often hidden from friends and family members.”

The researchers say a number of the overdoses that ended up being fatal happened at home, but family members couldn’t recognize that the person was suffering an overdose. Families usually didn’t have naloxone – an overdose reversal drug – on hand to be able to administer at home.

Based on the findings, Fraser Health says it is taking steps to reach out to the South Asian community, including holding education sessions with community groups and in Gurdwaras and providing more resources in Punjabi.

The health authority is also working with South Asian volunteers who have experienced addiction to help them share stories about their own substance use and treatment.