Yukon's chief coroner confirmed three recent overdose deaths were due to illicit drugs and is now investigating one more death that happened over the weekend in Carcross.
The preliminary evidence suggests the most recent death may also be related to illicit drugs, said Heather Jones, in news release issued Monday morning. The coroner said she received the preliminary toxicology results for the three deaths that happened between Jan. 15 and 19, 2022, and can now confirm that all three deaths involved fentanyl.
Two of the cases also involved cocaine and benzodiazepines ("benzos").
The release says, pending toxicology reports on this latest death, eight people have died between Jan. 3 and 23 due to illicit drugs use.
"As chief coroner, and as a member of our Yukon community, I wish to express my sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who have died. The weight of grief before us is truly heartbreaking," Jones said in a statement.
"I ask everyone to be compassionate as we mourn these tragic deaths and work together to create the change that is needed to alter our course."
Jones also urged anyone who is using drugs or needs support with substance use to access the available resources and to not use alone.
Last week, the Yukon government declared a substance use emergency in the territory. The move is meant to bolster addiction and mental wellness services across the territory. This could include drug testing capacity in communities and better resourced land-based treatments, Health Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said at the time.
In a statement released on Monday, the Assembly of First Nations Yukon Region said Yukon First Nation Chiefs met with Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister of mental health and addictions, after the announcement.
The statement says the chiefs put an emphasis on the need for urgent action and "investment that directly meets the specific needs of communities and those citizens whose daily lives are affected by mental health and addictions issues."
Regional Chief Kluane Adamek said in the statement that the territory is in "devastating times."
"Far too many families and communities in the Yukon continue to be affected by the tragic losses and pain due to the deep-seeded mental health and addictions issues impacting people across the Yukon," Adamek said, offering her condolences as well.
"We have all been touched by this ongoing crisis … our people need help, and they need it now."
There were calls for various forms of support, like land-based healing, education and prevention programs.
In the statement Chief Nicole Tom of Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation said that this includes the availability of nasal and at-home naloxone kits, widespread drug testing and more investment in community safety officer programs.
"These supports need to be sent to communities directly because they are the ones who are hurting," Tom said.
"The citizens struggling with addiction and mental health, as well as their partners, friends, grandparents, parents, siblings and children – these are the people on the ground, everyday, who are suffering and who need to see and feel government support."
Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in Council Chief Roberta Joseph also said the support and guidance of elders are also needed along with "medical and wellness professionals who are trained to understand the complexities of intergenerational trauma, and supports that facilitate healing our connections to the land, languages, cultures, and our communities and families."