Men who use street drugs are more likely to overdose and die.
A study by the B.C. Coroners Service found that 81 per cent of men died from an illicit drug overdose between 2016 and 2017, compared to only 13 per cent of women.
“Young women, girls, they’ll go to the washroom together. There is more of a socio-centric leaning for females. Guys, it’s more solo,” said Dale Hardy, a Social Justice 12 teacher at Riverside Centre.
Women are also more likely to ask for a NARCAN kit for a friend, he added, something that men rarely tend to do.
These are findings are from a study that he and students did on the issue called Death By Gender.
Hardy decided to take on the topic after a presentation by Mark Goheen, a clinical specialist with Fraser Health, who told them that out of 1,446 overdose fatalities in 2017, 1,191 of the victims were men, compared to 255 women.
Over a five-month period, they conducted 24 interviews – at the Riverside Centre for Continuing Education, in Maple Ridge and throughout Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
The group of 12 students started the study in September and came up with all the questions to ask participants.
They wanted to know why more men were dying, why trades workers were over-represented in opioid fatalities, what strategies female drug users use that serve as harm reduction, and what role gender socialization plays in minimizing or maximizing the risk.
But when his group approached various organizations and people on the front line of the opioid crisis, sometimes the question hadn’t even occurred to them.
Or, added Hardy, some participants, especially those who worked for government agencies or non-profit societies, were reluctant or simply refused to be quoted for fear of repercussions.
The study was difficult for the group because they witnessed events and learned about incidents that proved to be overwhelming.
They found out about the death of a 27-year-old support worker with whom they had developed a strong connection with and they witnessed a man experiencing an overdose on the street.
His team also learned that 14 people had overdosed in one night at Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users where they also heard about the grieving staff who had experienced the death of a colleague.
A study by the B.C. Coroners Service, Illicit Drug Overdose Deaths in B.C., Findings of Coroners’ Investigations, released in September 2018, backs up Goheen’s numbers.
Out of a total of 872 people, the study found that 81 per cent of those who died from an illicit drug overdose were men while 19 per cent were women.
The study found 65 per cent of the people were never married, 44 per cent were employed at the time of death and of those employed, 55 per cent were in the trades and transport industry.
The study defines trades and transport occupations as contractors and supervisors, industrial, electrical and construction trades and related workers; machining, metal forming, electrical trades and electrical powerlines, telecommunication workers; plumbers, pipefitters; carpenters and cabinetmakers; masonry and plastering trades; automotive service technicians; train crew operators, crane operators, drillers, and blasters; longshore workers; transport and equipment operators (installers/repairers); motor vehicle and transit drivers; trades helpers, construction labourers and related occupations.
Other findings include the most frequently detected substance in a fatal drug overdose was illicit fentanyl, detected in 76 per cent of the deaths, cocaine in 51 per cent, alcohol in 37 per cent and methamphetamine/amphetamine in 33 per cent. Women were more likely to consume their drugs by injection, while most common modes of consumption in men was smoking or injection.
And, illicit fentanyl was detected in a 85 per cent of deaths among 15- to 29-year-olds, compared to 79 per cent in those 30- to-49-years-old and 64 per cent in those older than 50.
What Hardy and his class discovered while doing the study was that more than half of people seeking overdose treatment are using mental health services and that depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts are the most common reasons for seeking help.
Depression is just as prevalent among men as women but presents itself differently. Men usually become more irritable, and engage in risky behaviour and escape mechanisms such as “workaholism” and alcohol abuse.
They also discovered that men are three to four times likely to commit suicide than women and that they internalize a relationship breakdown as weakness and failure and might also externalize grief through aggression or self medicate with alcohol or drugs.
Another interesting fact they uncovered is that 70 per cent of Canadians who seek mental health treatment are women and that men 19 to 59 years old are most affected by overdose and do no frequently use health-care services.
They came to the conclusion that services need to be designed for men to help them ask for help.
“We need to move from blaming men for not reaching out to services as frequently as women,” Hardy wrote.
The also concluded that preconceived notions of masculinity can get in the way of men’s progress with mental health and addictions treatment, such as “emotional stoicism and not expressing sadness”.
“Support workers can still connect with men’s yearning for healthy lives by appealing to other socialized masculine values, such as working hard, taking action, and showing courage” wrote Hardy.
Ultimately, Hardy hopes the study will result in more awareness around the issue.