A local collective of community health advocates have formed a group they call the South Asian Community Hub in an effort to break down barriers to services particularly for South Asian men who are wrestling with drug addiction.
“There is an entire community that has required services that has just gone unnoticed for so long,” said Upkar Singh Tatlay, treasurer and director of SACH, which is temporarily located out of the Dasmesh Darbar Gurdwara at 12885 85th Ave. in Newton. “Once COVID protocols are lifted we will be moving closer to, still in Newton, but more the King George and 72nd area.”
According to SACH, which also means “truth” in Punjabi, a recent report out of the Fraser Health Authority revealed that South Asian men represented 77 per cent of its overdose cases in 2017 and though many South Asians call Surrey home (33 per cent of the population) and 25 per cent in Abbotsford and 20 per cent in Delta, the statistic is “shockingly high.”
Tatlay noted that the data revealed the group suffering from drug addiction “overwhelmingly was male. There are women, but overwhelmingly male.”
Asked why he thinks that is, Tatlay replied that “on the sciences side of things I can’t speculate, but anecdotally there could be numerous factors. Obviously first you have to kind of look at flaws in the data. It could just be cultural factors too.”
Moreover, deaths related to toxic drugs increased in South Asians by 255 per cent between 2015 and 2018 compared to 138 per cent among other residents in the Fraser Health Region, with the number of fatalities increasing to 80 from 20 each year.
Tatlay said there’s “numerous factors” to the disproportion.
“One of the key ones is that it’s a community that just has not received resources and services whether harm reduction, or simple techniques on how to identify an overdose,” he explained. “It’s something that’s so removed from the community in terms of just resources. Not just the South Asian community but any ethnic community has never received information or resources tailored to that community. The communication has lacked.”
It’s partly a language issue, he added, and stigma is also “a huge thing.
“South Asian Community, many ethically diverse communities, stigma around substance use and overdose is quite substantial so these are challenges that we contend with.”
Tatlay says because the SACH Community Hub is built on “pillars,” every person “brings sort of their own lens into it.”
The goal is to reduce stigma while increasing access to resources.
“The need is so great,” Tatlay said. “We have an abundance of people who need this assistance, need this service. We are already delivering whether it’s substance use counselling, mental health therapy, income assistance. We’re delivering food security, hygiene packs.”
Essentially what the hub does is it provides access to services through a centralized location. “We were doing this in sort of nebulous points throughout the city but now to be able to pull the resources together, bring the strength of the individuals together to deliver all the services through a hub just makes it that much more organized,” Tatlay says.