CARCROSS – The executive council of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation (C/TFN) has declared a state of emergency in the wake of recent drug-related deaths impacting the community.
The decision, announced today, was made with strong support by the community following the news of three drug-related fatalities impacting the community within the first week of the new year.
“Our nation is deeply saddened by the recent loss of three of our people to drug overdoses,” Chief Lynda Dickson (Skoehoeteen) said in a statement included in the press release.
“The issue is as complex as the people that we have lost, and like every single one of those people, carefully acknowledging and addressing each aspect of this problem, matters and deserves our utmost concern. As leaders, it is our duty to prioritize the health and wellness of our people.”
Leaders and community members gathered at an emergency meeting last Friday and hosted a generative discussion on issues and needs surrounding the drug crisis.
The wide-ranging dialogue cultivated common themes echoed by other communities and public figures concerning the drug epidemic in the territory, says the press release.
The dialogue included the need for co-ordinated, community-led approaches, collaboration with other Yukon First Nations and orders of government, and a desire to cultivate community services and supports.
The Yukon government and Dr. Catherine Elliott, the acting chief medical officer of health, issued a warning to the public today that the street drug supply is contaminated.
Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said the Yukon coroner’s office has confirmed one recent death and is working on other cases.
She said it takes some time for the process to be finished and a conclusion reached, but added there is clear evidence the street drugs are being contaminated by benzodiazepine, among other substances.
Neither she nor Elliott would offer much comment on the state of emergency declared today by the C/TFN.
The Yukon, Elliott said, continues to have the highest rate of opioid-related deaths in Canada.
“There are toxic drugs in the territory,” she said.
Through its declaration, C/TFN leaders” are adding their voices to a chorus of urgent calls for action that have been issued from various entities and communities across the Yukon on this enduring and growing issue.”
The press release says C/TFN is calling upon the Yukon government and other Yukon First Nations to come together in solidarity under the declaration and act in collaboration to address gaps identified by Yukon First Nations and communities in addressing the territory’s drug crisis.
In 2021, the Yukon’s coroner’s service indicated that the territory’s opioid overdose rate per capita had become the highest in Canada, with a reported 48.4 deaths per 100,000 people.
Chief coroner Heather Jones has reported 21 deaths between Jan. 1 and Nov. 26, 2021. The Star requested an update from her office last week, but has not received a response.
Jones, the C/TFN said, issued five media releases in 2021 specifically on the issue, calling for action on the “silent crisis” of drug overdoses in the territory.
The First Nations Health Authority in British Columbia has reported data confirming that First Nations citizens are five times more likely to experience an overdose and three times more likely to die of an overdose than other residents.
– With a file from Tim Giilck