Whitehorse Daily Star

Image title

Photo by Whitehorse Star

Pictured above: PAULINE FROST

MLA seeks clarity on fighting drug crisis

The number of fentanyl deaths in the Yukon has risen to seven –

By Taylor Blewett on October 11, 2017

The number of fentanyl deaths in the Yukon has risen to seven – and the territorial government is being pressed on its response to the opioid crisis devastating communities across Canada.

In the legislature Tuesday, Yukon NDP MLA Kate White asked the government for a “clear plan between departments and community organizations to address this growing crisis.”

She inquired about the resources available for Yukoners who are struggling with opioid addiction.

She also cited five deaths in the territory since 2016 that have been confirmed as being caused by the potent opioid.

This number is suspected to be higher, she said, but delays with toxicology reports and a lack of information prevent that suspicion from being confirmed.

Heather Jones, the Yukon’s acting chief coroner, told the Star in a subsequent interview that seven fentanyl deaths have now been confirmed, but wouldn’t link the deaths to particular communities due to privacy concerns.

She also said that number could rise, as the corner’s office is still waiting on toxicology results that are now taking more than six months to complete.

The territory doesn’t have the capacity to do its own toxicology testing, Jones explained.

Consequently, they have to outsource the process to British Columbia, where all provincial overdose cases have been expedited through toxicology in lieu of autopsies.

British Columbia has been devastated by the opioid crisis, with 706 fentanyl-related deaths from January through July 2017 alone, according to the B.C. Coroners Service.

“We don’t actually have the ability, unfortunately, to get expedited so we have to go into the queue which gets, everyday, delayed,” Jones said.

This isn’t just a Yukon problem, according to Jones. Jurisdictions across the country are dealing with longer wait times for toxicology results.

“I’m not sure what our options are to be honest.”

If the results Jones is waiting on indeed attribute additional deaths to fentanyl, the total number of fatalities in the territory could exceed seven.

“But not by much,” she added.

First death

The first Yukon fentanyl death occurred in April 2016.

Jones wasn’t willing to put an exact number on the pending results, as they are only suspected fentanyl cases at this point.

Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee responded to White’s question in the legislature Tuesday.

“Fentanyl and the scourge that it is on our community are of concern to us all,” she said.

The government has established inter-departmental working groups and is working with the territory’s law enforcement, medical health officers and agencies and NGOs to combat the opioid crisis, according to McPhee.

They are also providing overdose training to first responders and distributing naloxone kits – an opioid overdose antidote – across Yukon communities.

Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost told reporters yesterday that while the government is focusing on prevention and education, it’s also ensuring that services are available to people struggling with opioid addiction.

Social workers, community nurses, and the 11 addictions and mental wellness workers the government has promised to hire will serve as the first line of support for Yukoners in different communities who want opioid addiction treatment, according to Frost.

“It’s up to the individuals to come forward and request the supports as long as we’re responsive in delivering the supports that are required,” she said.

She also noted that the government is looking at expanding the treatment services available at the Sarah Steele facility in downtown Whitehorse to those grappling with opioid addiction.

“The services are there on the ground, the outreach services are in the communities to get them to the help that they require,” said Frost.

“That’s our commitment as a government, and we want to ensure that we are there to respond to the crisis.”

Comments (7)

Up 1 Down 0

Bobby B. on Oct 17, 2017 at 6:40 pm

June did you not previously post that you had lost a grandchild to the pusherman? If so then your attitude is pretty hard core as some young people can be coerced to try something once through peer pressure. Once can be once too much with this stuff.
There is some health officer coming in to help address the fentynal crisis. If some lives are saved and turned around this will be well worth the expense and effort.

Up 18 Down 4

June Jackson on Oct 13, 2017 at 6:00 pm

Dave: Totally agree. The government programs enable people to get their drugs, to overdose again and again and again.. stop listening to what the government says, and look at what they do. Words are pretty cheap.

Up 14 Down 2

Meh on Oct 13, 2017 at 4:54 pm

I see that help is coming... what about the drug dealers? Stiffer sentences are required... murder charges if they are mixing fentynol with say marijuanna or other drugs that people were not expecting this cut to occur? The drug dealers should be sent to the pen for no less than 5 years and their childhood should not be considered. It is a choice they are making and their only care is money. They don' t care about the impact they are having on families or the loss the families feel when they lose a loved one.

Up 19 Down 2

Groucho d'North on Oct 12, 2017 at 1:52 pm

"The first Yukon fentanyl death occurred in April 2016...."
WRONG! The first one was Teresa Ann Scheunert, a registered nurse working in the Watson Lake Hospital June 21, 2012.
The fentanyl problem is not exclusively on the streets.

June 21, 2012

Up 25 Down 4

jc on Oct 11, 2017 at 9:02 pm

Old Caucasian saying, "You play with the bull, you get the horn".

Up 27 Down 5

Lost in the Yukon on Oct 11, 2017 at 9:01 pm

I feel much better now that I know government has struck a working group to look at this problem.

It's nice to know that at least a few of our over paid policy wonks now have something to do.
There should be a report within 18 months with recommendations targeted at the 2019/2020 fiscal year.

Up 37 Down 10

Dave on Oct 11, 2017 at 4:01 pm

Why is it that when people knowingly do things that harm their own bodies or even cause their own death it is somehow everyone elses problem to solve?
Don't do illegal drugs of any kind, you may die if you do, enough said. However if you do put these toxic substances in your body it is your own choice and hence your own problem.

Add your comments or reply via Twitter @whitehorsestar

In order to encourage thoughtful and responsible discussion, website comments will not be visible until a moderator approves them. Please add comments judiciously and refrain from maligning any individual or institution. Read about our user comment and privacy policies.

Your name and email address are required before your comment is posted. Otherwise, your comment will not be posted.