Advertisement

Yukon health officials warn of 'wave' of toxic drugs in territory

A sign on the front door of Whitehorse city hall indicates that Naloxone is available inside. Health officials are urging people to be extra careful when using substances, and say emergency workers are being 'hyper-vigilant' right now.  (Paul Tukker/CBC - image credit)
A sign on the front door of Whitehorse city hall indicates that Naloxone is available inside. Health officials are urging people to be extra careful when using substances, and say emergency workers are being 'hyper-vigilant' right now. (Paul Tukker/CBC - image credit)

Health officials in Yukon are warning of a "wave" of toxic drugs in the territory right now, and urging people to be extra cautious about the substances they're using.

"We are seeing a bit of a wave in the toxic drug supply, and I really want to emphasize the term 'wave,'" said Cameron Grandy, Yukon's director of mental wellness and substance use services.

"It's always toxic, we know that. But there seems to be a wave."

Yukon's chief coroner said last week that four people had died in the territory in as many days, all believed to be related to substance use. The deaths happened in three different communities.

The news was just the latest reminder of the severity of Yukon's ongoing drug crisis. Last year, the territorial government declared a substance use emergency and since then many communities have done likewise. The territory has Canada's highest per-capita death rate from illicit drugs.

Grandy did not offer any more details about the relative toxicity of the current drug supply in the Yukon, and what it might mean.

"Any loss of life is significant. And I can't sit here and say that people have died because of a specific reason, but it appears that substance use has taken lives in recent weeks. So I would I think that's extremely significant," he said.

"To be clear, there's never been a safe batch [of illicit drugs]. So I do want to emphasize that we're always concerned."

George Maratos/CBC
George Maratos/CBC

Dr. Derek Bryant, clinical lead of the territory's referred care clinic and opioid treatment services, said there is nevertheless an "inconsistent" opioid supply in the Yukon.

"We have periods where we have higher-potency opioids, periods where we have lower-potency opioids, and then we have adulterants as well like benzodiazepines that can contribute to an overdose and actually prevent Naloxone from being as effective," Bryant said.

He urges people to always have their drugs tested so they know what they're taking. Drug testing is currently available through the territory's supervised consumption site in Whitehorse as well as Blood Ties Four Directions and its outreach van.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

Grandy said the outreach van will be out in Whitehorse this weekend, focusing on drug testing and distributing naloxone kits. He also said that emergency medical services will be "hyper-vigilant" in the coming days.

Officials are also urging anybody who needs help dealing with addiction or substance use to access any support they can. Rapid-access counselling services are available at 867-456-3838.

They're also urging anybody who uses substances to make sure they have someone close by.

"Really one of the most important things is you know, never use alone if you can avoid it, [and] let someone know that you're going to be using substances," Bryant said.