Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

AN IMPORTANT URGING – Bronte Renwick-Shields is encouraging Yukoners to take advantage of the services at the Blood Ties Four Directions Centre as the street supply of opioids seems to be increasingly unsafe.

Positives seen in safe drugs site concept

The introduction of a safe drug supply and safe consumption site could quell the rise of opioid-related deaths in the Yukon, according to local harm-reduction experts.

By Gabrielle Plonka on August 3, 2020

The introduction of a safe drug supply and safe consumption site could quell the rise of opioid-related deaths in the Yukon, according to local harm-reduction experts.

“Safe supply is an important tool when we’re talking about overdose and about harm reduction,” Bronte Renwick-Shields, the executive director of the Blood Ties Four Directions Centre in Whitehorse, told the Star today.

“Access to safe supply will prevent deaths and prevent overdoses and, ultimately, we should be looking to save lives here.”

On Friday, the Yukon government announced a sharp increase in opioid-related deaths. Thirteen people have died from drug overdoses since last January, nearly double the total number of deaths in previous years.

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

Fentanyl is a dangerous drug and painkiller increasingly found in illicit opioids, contributing to an overdose crisis across Canada.

Blood Ties is a harm-reduction centre for drug users in Whitehorse. The downtown centre and outreach van both offer drug testing, so users can test their drugs for toxic levels of fentanyl before using.

Blood Ties also offers a needle exchange, safer crack kits and naloxone kits – a lifesaving drug that can quickly reverse overdoses.

Renwick-Shields is encouraging Yukoners to utilize services at Blood Ties as the street supply of opioids seems to be increasingly unsafe.

“Due to different access and changes in the pandemic, we’ve seen changes in the supply,” Renwick-Shields said.

“People may be using different substances than they were in the past, or using in different ways.”

Stay-at-home orders during the pandemic may have caused more people to use drugs alone or increase their intake, Renwick-Shields said. The pandemic also may have affected the availability of some drugs.

“(People) may have different access to substances than they had before, maybe their regular supplier isn’t available so they’re accessing from someone else, but they aren’t able to access the substance they normally use so they’re using something different,” Renwick-Shields said.

People using drugs they’re unfamiliar with might also increase their risk of overdose, she explained. 

A safe supply of drugs would prevent drug users from being affected by changes in their supply. Renwick-Shields said Blood Ties is an advocate for this initiative.

“We have seen safe supply implemented in other countries, as well as in B.C.,” Renwick-Shields said. 

“(It would) give people safe, legal access to drugs they’re not criminalized for, and don’t have to fear that the drug that they are buying isn’t what they’re looking for.”

Safe supply would see drug users prescribed medically-regulated opioids. During a press conference on Friday, Health Minister Pauline Frost said her department is exploring this option.

Frost also said there is consideration of a safe consumption site, where people could use drugs with supervision.

Renwick-Shields said she is in support of all harm-reduction initiatives, but noted that drug users in the Yukon’s communities would likely not benefit from a Whitehorse-based safe consumption site.

“I think due to the spread of overdoses throughout the Yukon, and not just in Whitehorse, we need to look at safe supply,” Renwick-Shields said. 

“It’s important that it’s not just folks in Whitehorse where we have access to a safe place to use and providing safety to members of rural communities as well.”

Katharine Smart, the president of the Yukon Medical Association, told the Star this morning the increase in opioid deaths is troubling.

“(I’m) very saddened to know that this pre-existing problem is getting worse – obviously any time somebody dies from an overdose, we consider that to be something preventable,” Smart said.

“I’m not entirely surprised, because this is a trend we’ve been seeing across the country in the past few months.”

Smart said there is evidence to suggest that a safe consumption site could be life-saving for drug users in Whitehorse.

“It makes sense to have it situated where people tend to congregate,” Smart said.

“This is obviously not rehab or addictions programming in that regard, where being out of town or on the land might make sense … this is for people who are actively using substances, so it needs to be where they are.”

It’s important to consult with affected communities before making decisions on the site’s location, Smart added. 

Supporting rural drug users is a different challenge requiring solutions unique to each community.

Partnerships between First Nations governments – whose citizens have been disproportionately affected by opioid deaths – and mental health hubs will be critical to leveraging community services, Smart said.

“Those need to be bigger conversations that involve all the players, to try to come up with what works for them,” Smart said.

“I can imagine what might work in one community might not work in another.”

Reducing the stigma around drug use will also be pivotal to keeping drug users safe, Smart said.

“It’s not unique to the Yukon; I think in general there is a stigma around drug use and that is one of the risks that might drive people to use alone or not seek help,” Smart said.

“I think there’s also a lot of stigma around mental health concerns, which are drivers of addiction.”

Increasing harm-reduction services and initiating open conversations about drug use and mental health are important for quelling the crisis, Smart said.

She noted that abstaining from substances is “not a reality for everybody” and services need to be cognizant of that.

“We can meet you where you are and keep you safe, and that’s a worthwhile thing to do because you’re an important person,” Smart said.

Comments (23)

Up 1 Down 0

drum on Aug 9, 2020 at 3:04 pm

Nothing more dangerous than an idiot who thinks they are a genius.

Up 11 Down 2

Great white north indeed on Aug 8, 2020 at 9:52 pm

What an utter mess of a city .

Up 17 Down 2

drum on Aug 7, 2020 at 7:15 pm

The Homeless Shelter is a Joke. I saw a young "homeless" person throw his beer bottle at a window on the second floor of the "Shelter". Pauline Frost has a lot to answer for.

Up 15 Down 3

vlad on Aug 7, 2020 at 2:53 pm

A good response to the article. I had seen what happened to the East Hasting, however it is politically correct, so don't forget to vote.

Up 26 Down 5

Salt on Aug 7, 2020 at 2:46 pm

The Salvation Army is not responsible for the current situation. They ran a much more effective operation on the back of donations and volunteers. Now it’s a sandbox for bureaucrats to play out child-like emotional fantasies with other peoples money. Only big government can do something up that bad.

Up 38 Down 4

Mr M on Aug 6, 2020 at 7:39 am

Nice to see the big new building at 4th and Alexander starting to get boarded up with broken windows and smashed in siding. Let's just put out more tax payers dollars. What a Joke. If they want to open clean free injection sites I would like free beer.

Up 38 Down 5

Why? on Aug 5, 2020 at 4:58 pm

Why did the Salvation army put up those blinders? Is it an eyesore?

Pretty sad when the goal with drug users is to accommodate versus change. There is a strong push to change the attitudes of the sober working class. But if it's drugs "no, no, let them do them, they are vulnerable."

Up 33 Down 6

Anie on Aug 5, 2020 at 3:54 pm

Here's what worries me: a few years ago, our country talked about decriminalizing pot. My reaction was why not. It seemed like something good with few drawbacks. Then I watched as our government became focused, to the exclusion of other important issues, with the sale of pot. It seemed to be all that mattered country-wide. Now my grandchildren have easy access to legal pot as soon as they reach the legal age. I honestly had not considered that development. I'm not so sure I want to enable the same easy access to heroin, cocaine, hydromorphone etc.

Up 41 Down 8

Yukon Eddie on Aug 4, 2020 at 8:34 pm

Frank Sterie Jr. Giving addicts free drugs and sites isn't the answer to a persons life problems. Proper counseling by trained counselors is. Are our Universities not putting out counselors any more? Let's find out why these people turn to drugs and alcohol and treat the problem with rehab counseling. Not helping them do their habit safely. What a screwed up leftist, politically correct society we live in today.

Up 24 Down 8

Karen on Aug 4, 2020 at 8:27 pm

Yukon NEEDS more programming. Not just the 45 day stint in rehab. It takes a lot more than that. 45 days is a start but not the end. My loved one was lucky enough to go to that facility when it first opened. It gave us 45 days of a good sleep and hope. No follow up what so ever after. Year later we chose another provincial facility provided by health care, still getting closer. Then chose a private facility 20K for that one 45 days, plus $1000 month after for sober living, 2 months. Then another province facility for another 90 days, then two months sober living. Hey but the fun does not stop there.....a tune up needed so that is 45 days for 10K that time.
So for everyone that thinks it is easy for the addict to stop, it is not. The shame, the guilt and trauma just don't go away over night for all parties in this nightmare. Yukon honestly could use a few private facilities, and I really did not care someone is still making a profit off of my addict. It was the best money spent and they all keep in touch with the addict and the family. They ensured there was a doctor always there to help and a councilor to talk to anytime. It has taken the addict three years to get the right help. There is no magical wand to fix this, but to start get more facilities to choose from. People can't always just leave to another province or territory to try and find the help they deserve.

Up 29 Down 6

Yukon Eddie on Aug 4, 2020 at 8:21 pm

Sick of the crime up here: So, now you want the NGOs to deal the illegal drugs to the addicted at tax payer expense. So, that now makes the NGOs and government criminals. Why shouldn't they be charged with pushing drugs? Wouldn't it be right to send the police after them? A drug pusher is a drug pusher. I make no distinction. As I said in a past comment, the police should arrest a pusher when he is observed doing it. The government and NGOs job is not to push drugs to addicts. Their job is to see they get counseling help and rehabilitation.

Up 39 Down 9

Juniper Jackson on Aug 4, 2020 at 5:45 pm

I know quite a number of people who had terrible, some, tragic, childhoods. Oddly enough, they manage to go out to work every day, pay their bills, love their families. Are NOT addicts. One said not long ago, 'i don't know how to parent, but i sure know how NOT to parent'. You open the door to free drugs, you better open it to free booze, for alcoholics, free food for obesity, free smokes for nicotine addicts. Because everyone has something. And everyone has an excuse for it too. If life is so miserable you have to self medicate to death, talk to your Doctor about euthanasia. IF people want help, it's there for them. Billions of dollars in help, millions of people trained to help you. IF an addict doesn't want help, there isn't a damn thing anyone can do to help him. Including free drugs and a comfy place to shoot up. I absolutely refuse to enable continued abuse by paying for it.

I also know people who are struggling right now and some will win. If it's all free they won't even try.

Up 15 Down 24

Moose on Aug 4, 2020 at 5:09 pm

@Guncache and Salt
You are wrong when you talk about this "wasting" money. You are only considering the upfront cost which is very small compared to the savings. If you ever have the time, look into how much homeless drug addicts costs us all in terms of resources in the justice and healthcare systems. You will be amazed at the high cost. So programs like this are a huge bargain for tax payers in reality. If you want the government to save money, you should be in favour of these programs. Don't take my word for it though, ask some police officers or paramedics.

Up 20 Down 20

Frank Sterle Jr. on Aug 4, 2020 at 1:52 pm

I used to be one of those who, while sympathetic, would look down on those who’d ‘allowed’ themselves to become addicted to alcohol and illicit drugs. However, upon learning that serious life trauma (e.g. adverse childhood experiences) is so often behind the addict’s debilitating addiction, I began to understand ball-and-chain self-medicating.
The greater the drug-induced euphoria or escape one attains from its use, the more one wants to repeat the experience; and the more intolerable one finds their sober reality, the more pleasurable that escape should be perceived. By extension, the greater one’s mental pain or trauma while sober, the greater the need for escape from reality, thus the more addictive the euphoric escape-form will likely be.
Yet, in many straight minds drug addicts have somehow committed a moral crime, perhaps even those who’d become addicted to opiates prescribed them for an innocent sports or work injury.
We now know pharmaceutical corporations intentionally pushed their very addictive opiate pain killers—the real moral crime—for which they got off relatively lightly, considering the resulting immense suffering and overdose death numbers.

Up 56 Down 17

Salt on Aug 3, 2020 at 9:30 pm

Of course this is the next logical step for the left. If you want to supply drugs for addicts, do it with your own money on your own property you parasites.

Up 38 Down 24

JC on Aug 3, 2020 at 8:25 pm

There is an increase in drug addiction in the Yukon. But hey, the government is making it a lot safer to become one now. Go Liberals. Now the police can focus on more important things like speeding tickets.

Up 47 Down 15

Not here please on Aug 3, 2020 at 7:34 pm

Just because there might have been a marginal reduction in infections and OD’s for a period at the Vancouver trials does not mean that the gates should be opened indefinitely here in the Yukon . Cold Turkey needed .

Up 58 Down 12

Guncache on Aug 3, 2020 at 7:07 pm

Instead of wasting 100's of thousands of $$$ on drug addicts, how about supplying the Shingrix vaccine to seniors who are not drug addicts.

Up 55 Down 11

Geoff Capp on Aug 3, 2020 at 6:22 pm

You don't want to do that. Lethbridge has a "supervised consumption site", but after it opened, drug addicts and drug traffickers from all across Canada gravitated to Lethbridge, crime went up (like bicycle theft to get money to buy drugs), discarded needles became a major littering and health safety issue. Also, the site handed out needles that people used off-site, which clearly is contrary to the idea of supervised consumption. No, you need these people to be treated for their addiction by liberating them of it, and finding and jailing the merchants of misery who use their profits to set themselves up luxuriantly.

Please don't make the same mistake. It is far, far too costly.

Up 16 Down 45

Doug Tutty (live in Faro) on Aug 3, 2020 at 5:27 pm

Treat it like the health issue it is; set it up at the health centre (specific hours, perhaps separate entrance).

Up 57 Down 18

J. Ungkee on Aug 3, 2020 at 4:47 pm

The only harm reduction strategy that actually reduces harm by drug use is, drum roll please: abstinence, yes abstinence.

Up 20 Down 50

sick of the crime up here on Aug 3, 2020 at 4:34 pm

I FULLY SUPPORT safe site and free, safe supply. We could finally cut the scumbag drug dealers out of the equation in Whitehorse, (and I hope in the communities as well). No money to be made, no drug dealers. Boo-hoo for them. This plan will make a lot of scumbags up here very unhappy as they watch their stream of big easy money dry up.

If that means giving the drugs to people under medical supervision and prescription, go ahead. It will still cost us in terms of the people running the program and the doctors doing the prescriptions but fentanyl itself is dirt cheap. I honestly could not care less how much drug addicts want to consume. If they are safer and surrounded by people who care about their welfare and are there for them if they choose to quit drugs, all the better. Doesn't bother me. But more importantly, if they are getting their drugs for free, they will be stealing less from the general public. Win win all round.

Go for it.

Up 53 Down 12

Really. on Aug 3, 2020 at 3:48 pm

So what is being proposed is that you walk into your doctors office and just say “I want to get high” and they are going to write you a prescription for legal opioids. And then I guess they will direct you to a safe consumption site. Who knows, pay for your cab as well. It’s kind of ironic that we don’t start smoking facilities and supply cigarettes to all the people who want to smoke. It’s as addictive if not more than heroin.
These people we shame and reduce where they can smoke as well as make it so expensive. How about safe drinking spots where you can drink yourself into oblivion. The bars are suppose to stop serving you if you appear intoxicated. It seems we are giving up on trying to get people to stop and start treating it as normal behaviour that our minister of health wants the rest of society to accept. It looks like the Liberal way to govern is to tax heavy and keep us doped up and happy.

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