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B.C.: Punjabi students overdosing at alarming rate but government failing to show numbers, say local community leaders

by The Canadian Parvasi

Local community leaders from the Punjabi diaspora are asserting that international students from Punjab are dying from overdoses at an alarming rate, especially in Surrey, but the government fails to track the problem.

The Gurdwara Dukh Nivaran in Surrey, BC, has incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars to help transport bodies of Punjabi International students back to India, according to Giani Narinder Singh, president of the Gurdwara.

“80% of the reports we receive, we have noted that 80% of the deaths are drug-related,” stated Singh, while speaking to media outlets.

“Some have never tried it and try it for the first time, some could have been doing it in India as well before they do it here—there can be many reasons for this, you can’t just look at it from one angle…They don’t know how much is in the drugs, it could be the first time they tried it and on the first time, they overdose,” he continued, adding that close ones of those dead from overdoses often tell people that the students died in their sleep or from a cardiac arrest.

Others prominent in the community opine that the government may not release the data in order to not discourage other potential international students intending to arrive in Canada.

“The funeral homes, they can show the numbers. I can say every single week, there are one or two international student deaths that are reported in Surrey. On Monday, we have another funeral for a young man who overdosed,” stated Neeraj Walia, Secretary and Operational Head of the Guru Nanak Food Bank, to news outlets.

“The government needs to accept this and they need to show the numbers that yes, this is the reason and they need to have solutions…International students are the number one revenue business for Canada right now,” Walia added further.

The BC Coroners Service stated that the data is not available as the service does not collect race-based statistics on drug-related overdose deaths, with spokesperson Ryan Panton citing to media outlets, “We do not collect data related to the ethnicity of decedents as there is currently no provincial standard for such information.”

Systemic barriers may make it harder for international students to get help, according to Kulpreet Singh, the Founder of the South Asian Mental Health Alliance.

“When it comes to the actual treatment, there’s a lot of people who say that they’ve faced systemic barriers, racism, language barriers, when they’re trying to get help…Some students know they’re taking something that could affect their health but aren’t fully aware of the difference between heroin, fentanyl, benzodiazepines and other substances. Often, they will say, ‘Oh, my friend [or colleague] gave me some pills because I wanted to do a longer shift, or I’m having a lot of stress, and they told me, ‘well, take this and it’ll help you,” stated Singh in media reports.

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