'We can't continue this way': Yukon reports fifth overdose death this year

·2 min read
In the past five years, Yukon has had a total of 37 confirmed opioid-related deaths, with 29 of them involving fentanyl, pictured here. The most recent death involved the highly toxic drug carfentanil, in a rural Yukon community.  (CBC - image credit)
In the past five years, Yukon has had a total of 37 confirmed opioid-related deaths, with 29 of them involving fentanyl, pictured here. The most recent death involved the highly toxic drug carfentanil, in a rural Yukon community. (CBC - image credit)

Yukon's coroner says five Yukoners have died of drug overdoses in 2021.

Three opioid-related deaths were announced mid-February involving fentanyl, while toxicology reports are still pending for a fourth. All of those deaths were in the Whitehorse area.

The most recent death of the fifth person involved the highly toxic drug carfentanil, in a rural Yukon community.

Brontë Renwick-Shields, executive director of Blood Ties Four Directions — a non-profit that aims to give equal access to health and wellness in Yukon through its drop-in centre, housing, needle exchange and outreach van — said these deaths emphasize the need to look at how policies and behaviours should change.

"We can't continue this way," Renwick-Shields said. "We can't continue to lose Yukoners to something that's preventable."

37 opioid-related deaths in past 5 years

Since 2016, Yukon has had a total of 37 confirmed opioid-related deaths, with 29 of them involving fentanyl.

Right now Renwick-Shields said Blood Ties is encouraging people who are using substances to carry naloxone, not to use alone and to test a small amount of their substances before use.

However, that has meant that much of the onus falls on the individual who is using substances — a person who might be struggling to combat the crisis.

"There's a lot we can do as a society, and one of those things is the implementation of safe supply. And it's been done in British Columbia. We know that it saves lives and we know that it could save lives in the Yukon."

Safe supply is a system where a regulated and safe supply of drugs is provided to people who are already using substances and who are at-risk for overdose.

Carfentanil is about 100 times more toxic than fentanyl, and 10,000 times more toxic than morphine. It is deadly to humans in small amounts.

"This is the first confirmed instance of carfentanil in the Yukon … and it is very concerning because of the strength of this drug," said Renwick-Shields, adding it also adds risk to those using substances.

She said those who are looking for support on how to prevent an overdose, how to get their drugs tested, or those seeking a naloxone kit, or other types of support, can contact the Blood Ties centre or the outreach van.