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AN ALARMING TRAJECTORY – Seen left to right at this morning’s news conference are RCMP Chief Supt. Scott Sheppard; Yukon chief coroner Heather Jones; and Dr. Brendan Hanley, the territory’s chief medical officer. Inset Doris Bill Photos courtesy YUKON GOVERNMENT/ALISTAIR MAITLAND PHTOGRAPHY

Drug deaths ‘a cause for real concern’

Thirteen people have died of drug overdoses in the Yukon since January, signalling a dramatic rise in opioid-related deaths.

By Gabrielle Plonka on July 31, 2020

Thirteen people have died of drug overdoses in the Yukon since January, signalling a dramatic rise in opioid-related deaths.

“Clearly, clearly, clearly, the numbers we are seeing this year are a cause for real concern and deep sadness,” Heather Jones, the Yukon’s chief coroner, told a news conference this morning, at which the latest overdose numbers were released.

“These numbers represent people who were rooted in our communities … mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandchildren and so much more.”

Health Minister Pauline Frost, Dr. Brendan Hanley, the chief medical officer, Kwanlin Dün First Nation Chief Doris Bill and Yukon RCMP Supt. Scott Shepherd were also present at the news conference.

Jones said many of the 13 dead were individuals in their 20s and 30s.

Six of the 13 people were using drugs alone.

At least five of the deaths involved a First Nations person.

Seven of the deaths occurred in Whitehorse.

Eight of the 13 deaths were a result of opioids and toxic amounts of fentanyl.

Fentanyl is a dangerous drug and painkiller found in opioids such as OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, codeine, heroin and morphine.

It has been increasingly found as a component of illicit drugs in the last four years and has contributed to an overdose crisis across North America.

The Yukon has seen a consistent number of overdose deaths linked to fentanyl since 2016.

In 2016, there were seven overdose deaths, all fentanyl-related. In the following years there were seven, nine and six overdose deaths, Jones said.

The first seven months of this year have already seen nearly double the number of deaths seen in previous years.

“This is more deaths from opioids than we have experienced in any other year since fentanyl first made its entrance into our territory in 2016,” said Hanley.

“Fentanyl is still very much present and even being pushed into this market, so taking drugs is as dangerous or more dangerous than ever.”

Public health officials said this morning the pandemic seems to be compounding a pre-existing opioid crisis. Supply chain disruptions have made the street supply of illicit drugs less predictable and safe.

Before the pandemic, drug users were instructed not to use drugs alone and to have a naloxone kit available while using.

During the pandemic, people were instructed to distance themselves and stay home. The combination of isolation, decrease in services and more people using alone may have contributed to the number of overdose deaths.

Bill said that there has been an uptick in drug use since the COVID-19 pandemic began early this year.

“While the pandemic is not the cause of these tragedies, there has been a notable spike in these losses during COVID,” Bill said.

“We have witnessed increased partying in some of our communities and a number of gaps in the system have presented themselves.”

Bill noted that lack of treatment spaces, housing security and limited land-based healing options are available.

“We have to adapt, work collaboratively and be willing to think outside of the box and be willing to try new things, and try them quickly, or we will lose more lives,” Bill said. 

Shepherd said the RCMP’s crime reduction unit has been targeting drug traffickers through the Yukon this year, but that the problem won’t be solved that way.

“To coin an old phrase, we’re not going to arrest our way out of what is extensively a health problem,” Shepherd said.

“If we can address the desire to have drugs in our community, I think we’ll be far better off.”

Hanley said there isn’t one easy solution to the opioid crisis.

“This is a very complex problem – it depends on a community approach, understanding the roots of marginalization and vulnerability … or homelessness, it’s understanding trauma and its relationship with substance use and looking at newer and innovative ways,” Hanley said.

“There’s so much to do; there always has been.”

Frost said the Department of Health and Social Services is considering developing a supervised consumption site and exploring the introduction of a safe supply chain.

In the meantime, harm reduction education is underway.

The community of Watson Lake has declared August to be Overdose Awareness Month and has developed a harm reduction advisory board.

Opioid Treatment Services are available at the Referred Care Clinic in Whitehorse.

The Blood Ties centre also offers harm reduction services, including fentanyl testing, safer crack kits and injection equipment, safer meth kits and safer snorting kits.

Increased naloxone training will also be provided throughout the territory.

Reducing the stigma of drug-related deaths is also a priority for the Health department.

“Please, Yukoners, be compassionate – this is not the time to shame people or pass judgment,” Frost said.

Comments (19)

Up 0 Down 1

Nathan Living on Aug 4, 2020 at 1:56 am

DO NOT DO DRUGS BECAUSE THEY ARE DANGEROUS.
If you do drugs do them with a friend who can help you if things go sideways. And do them in a public place where an ambulance can quickly get to you.

Always do drugs in openly visible public places like the Library or on Main Street or on a park bench or near an elementary school where the police and social workers can keep an eye on you to ensure you are safe.

Let's keep people who do drugs safe. Let's not hide what is taking place because people are suffering.
If drug use is out in the open it's better for everyone.

Up 1 Down 0

justsayin' on Aug 3, 2020 at 3:44 pm

@Jim
Bravo. You said it clearly and concisely.
I would like to add that 38.5% of those deaths were indigenous while 61.5 % were other, why must you create divisiveness when discussing a problem that does not discriminate? Why did they not discuss ages, some of these people who passed were very young.

The CERB roll out was haphazardly initiated and as a result, people are abusing it and hurting themselves. I expect their to be further deaths in August.

Up 3 Down 19

Mick on Aug 3, 2020 at 3:16 pm

@ Darrell Drugstore's smartest neighbour

I guess you don't drink booze or some the odd dart Mr Tea Totaler. Because with either of those you will end up just as dead, only slower.

Up 34 Down 5

Jim on Aug 3, 2020 at 1:03 pm

I find it strange that the working stiff who works all his life to support family, work to own his own home all while paying taxes is made somehow to feel guilty for not showing acceptance for people who don’t wish to participate in society. If we don’t support the liberal ideology that everyone should be accepted no matter how they wish to live their life while taking no responsibility, then we are somehow to blame. I am supportive of any program that helps people change their life, but cannot support programs that normalizes or encourages this type of behaviour.

Up 32 Down 5

Don't do drugs! on Aug 2, 2020 at 8:41 pm

And once again I will share the lesson of the day, don't do drugs dummy.

Up 19 Down 6

JohnW on Aug 2, 2020 at 2:09 pm

But the govt claims the lockdowns saved everyone from getting Covid, so one can assume that the govt decided the inevitable increase in drug overdose deaths among the addict population was a regrettable but acceptable side effect of the lockdowns. Otherwise we would have to assume that the govt never considered the negative side effects of their lockdown policies.

Up 34 Down 9

Darrell Drugstore's smartest neighbour on Aug 2, 2020 at 1:31 pm

You willingly put GARBAGE in your body - your choice.
You die a horrible death - Making this moronic behavior more acceptable is absurd.

Up 50 Down 5

Groucho d'North on Aug 2, 2020 at 11:07 am

Pick your favourite poison from either the street dealer or the government, find a place to reflect on all your woes and apply the numbing agent until you can't any longer.
It's a sad epitaph for any life. BUT- those who want to can turn things around. Look at Robert Downey Jr. who had fallen so far, he was being written off at all levels. Someone, or something flipped a switch in him and he healed himself.
You can change your bad habits if you want to - nobody else can do it for you. Stop the blame game and get better.

Up 37 Down 17

Matthew on Aug 2, 2020 at 7:27 am

Still.. 13 more deaths than covid.. and we shut down the economy for it.. a death rate of 0.0024%.. besides, when times are grim people ALWAYS turn to drugs and booze..

Up 21 Down 7

Josey Wales on Aug 1, 2020 at 10:39 pm

Hmmm...still on the needless death narrative are we?
or is it "A" public safety angle, getting confused?

Geez..I just had a thought, why no press conference speaking of our HORRIFIC traffic which very very much creates OFTEN but not always "needless death"? At said non existent press conference, Supt. Scott could read out the charges the driver that was thee link...in a chain...resulting in two humans lost to their family and friends...WILL be facing in the courts.

Nope, no press conference for people, through no fault of their own are no longer in this world...just for a fringe of our society that create more cogs in their machine. There are folks in that mess whom ALSO through no fault of their own, developed addictions...I get that...seriously I do.
However I hold the opinion those folks are a very small percentage of our usual cast of characters.

Such a small percentage, I liken it to the ratio of folks that use stop signs for their intended use in this town.
For absolute clarity that wee percentage I speak of have my empathy, the other pariahs living a lifestyle ... I say go nuts... free world overdose and end your "perceived pain".

Look forward Supt. Scott, to that press conference I fictitiously wrote of.
I think A few more non profit NGOs could really, really seriously help...depending how many zeros are on the left of the decimal.

" I've seen the needle and the damage done..." NY rust never sleeps.
"Some men you just cannot reach...." Cool Hand Luke kick ass B&W old movie.

Up 21 Down 26

At home in the Yukon on Aug 1, 2020 at 9:18 pm

This, folks, is the cost of the cure. Well, part of it. RCMP says that domestic violence is up. There's evidence that suicide is up. The cure is killing us. But COVID hasn't killed a Yukonner yet. In fact, our hospitals haven't seen a COVID patient yet.

We have NO COVID in the Yukon. With good border control, we can, and need to open the Yukon up wide. Let's give up on our COVID paranoia, and live.

Up 19 Down 6

Hugh E. Kluster-Fuchs on Aug 1, 2020 at 7:22 pm

Yukon Eddie - The Yukon likes to maintain an eddy of social issues to sustain the illusion of a need for its own governmental largesse. It is a fiefdom maintenance strategy as remaining in power is, always, about maintaining and expanding one’s political power through the manipulation of image. Thus, the 4th Avenue social experiment is the epicentre of which political power is created, sustained, grown, and manipulated to shine the public.

Yukon Eddie - No one is going to take on the fight because it would be a venue through which some aspiring politicians image would be irreversibly tarnished. Society is no longer about expectations or reciprocal obligations. Society is not unity it is about creating disunity through the construction of an irresponsible individualism of purely hedonistic machinations - You have no responsibility but to the ‘self’ says the Liberal ethos... This is the inherent irony of Liberal policy and the spat between the perceptions of Conservative and Liberal values - Society is currently too self-absorbed to realize this duplicity and so literally gets swept into the eddy and dragged under in the swirl of it all.

Up 30 Down 1

in the old days on Aug 1, 2020 at 3:43 pm

You know, in the old days, if you bought speed, cocaine, LSD, pot, etc., you could be sure that is what you were getting. In the last decade or so it's common practice and common knowledge of stuff being cut with fentanyl or other opiod garbage. So for the most part the reason for the OD's are the greedy people cutting their stuff with lethal fillers. Can't see how it's good business practice to kill off your clientele though..

Up 38 Down 7

moe on Aug 1, 2020 at 10:33 am

"Frost said the Department of Health and Social Services is considering developing a supervised consumption site and exploring the introduction of a safe supply chain.'

Good idea. These drugs are dirt cheap. If people insist on taking them, why allow dealers to profit while the consumers spend all their wages / social assistance on them or break into houses and cars to pay for them. Let their money pay for food and housing, give them all the drugs they want. I don't care. I don't care to figure it out or to judge it. I'd like to reduce the harm to society at large and let these people pursue their drugged out lifestyle (which they are going to do anyway), until they've had enough and seek help, or until the end if that's their choice. I think there is a better chance they'll pull out of it if they interact with health care workers while acquiring their drugs than if they interact with organized crime, parasites, sociopaths and losers while buying drugs.

Do the bold and brave thing and let's move on.
One more comment. 'An increase in partying' - thank the way CERB was rolled out. Anyone with a social insurance number got it for asking, with a warning that 'if you lied, you will have to pay it back! this is a criminal offense.' - Like drug addicts care about that.

Up 60 Down 15

Dave on Aug 1, 2020 at 7:24 am

Look, people have been told over and over that using these substances will kill them and not to do it. I have absolutely zero sympathy for anyone who willingly chooses to poison themselves with drugs in the same way that if someone was stupid enough to play Russian Roulette with a loaded revolver I'd think they got what they had coming. Somehow this is supposed to be everyone else's problem but it's not, it rests with the person doing it. The downside is that unfortunately they have family members that watch them kill themselves.

Up 56 Down 16

Peter on Jul 31, 2020 at 8:37 pm

"Thirteen people have died of drug overdoses in the Yukon since January", If they feel they can not do something with their life and resort to drugs to solve it, so be it. It is up to ourselves to get an education, plan our life to be productive in today's society. We as a society are not here to listen to your sob stories. Everyone has had difficulties in our lives. It is up to us to make something of our lives, being short as it is. Suck it up princess! Get with the program of life! No sympathy from me!

Up 34 Down 9

Josey Wales on Jul 31, 2020 at 7:38 pm

Gotta say, completely avoidable.
if six beers and a few spliffs cannot do it for ya, folks will play stupid games...with often no prize awarded.

Given this number, are we now going to be "ordered" to collective rehab?

Up 36 Down 15

Yukon Eddie on Jul 31, 2020 at 6:11 pm

Lets take this one point at a time.
1) Drug users were instructed not to use drugs alone. Wouldn't it better to council druggies and pre druggies not to use drugs at all? This kind of instruction is giving them the wrong message. They need to be told the truth. Let's get back to the pre-politically correct days and give them some useful advice.
2) Doris Bill says there's been an uptick in drug use since Covid19. Then she says, "while the pandemic is not the cause of these tragedies, there has been a notable spike in these losses during the Covid19". - I guess she means deaths. She just contradicted herself. Then what is the cause? Obviously she doesn't know or want to admit a Covid cause. I said in one of my comments at the beginning of the pandemic, an increase in drug use and deaths would result from the lock down. I got a lot of down arrows on that one. But it came true.
3) Making drug use easier for druggies is not going to solve the problem. It will only allow druggies to do their gamble with death in a much more comfortable atmosphere. Lets spend tax payer money on drug and alcohol rehab centres and get these people into them. Leaving them on the streets and making their pre-death decision easier is cruel and should be illegal. Illegal drug use is a crime. Make it a crime to be an accessory to drug use.
Drug and alcoholics can be cured. Assisting them in their drug use is counter productive and has to stop. Not all drug users and alcoholic users can be rehabilitated, but assisting them in the use of their problem isn't going to help but hinder them. They have to be told to stop, not use their habit safely. Would you council a person who wants to commit suicide to do it the least painful way? I wouldn't think so. So, why council them to do drugs the safest way. It may be your idea of safe, but the the person is still going to pay the consequences for their actions later.
Now, for the police. Charge a person as soon as you see them dealing in drugs. Not after months or even years of monitoring them. And for the judges, give the criminals the full weight of the law. No more catch and release. Keep them in jail and deal out a severe sentence that will convert them from future crime.
Dr. Hanley said, "There isn't one easy solution to the opioid crisis. As a doctor, he should know better. What better solution is serious counciling and rehab. Not assisting them in their deadly habit. Let's fight the problem head on. By the way, I used to be a prison councilor years ago. I didn't council my clients to do their habit the nice, easy, comfortable way. Sometimes you have to get rough. Telling them the truth is the best option.

Up 49 Down 2

purchased with CERB money on Jul 31, 2020 at 5:39 pm

This is what happens when profiteering dealers from B.C. learn that Yukoners are getting the cerb.
Go check the court cases.

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