Fourteen people have died due to drug overdoses in the Yukon since Jan. 1, the territory's coroner reported.
The number of deaths has doubled since the last report in April, according to a news release from Heather Jones, the chief coroner for the Yukon. The news release was issued on Tuesday, the eve of International Overdose Awareness Day.
All the overdose deaths in Yukon this year involved opioids in various formats of fentanyl and in combination with other illicit drugs or alcohol.
"The Yukon, like most other Canadian jurisdictions, has suffered greatly under the strain of what has been deemed 'the opioid crisis,' which found its way to us in the spring of 2016," Jones wrote.
"Our communities are in pain."
Since 2016, 47 Yukoners have died due to the illicit use of opioids, 83 per cent of which involved fentanyl.
The release notes another 10 people have died due to non-opioid drug overdoses during that same time period.
Last year saw a spike in overdose deaths, with a total of 10 deaths, compared to the four investigated in 2019. This year is already showing a 40 per cent increase over the 2020 total, Jones wrote, with four months of the year to go.
"As these numbers continue to grow, so too does the burden of grief and unimaginable losses felt throughout our community," said Jones in the release.
'It needs to change'
Brontë Renwick-Shields of Blood Ties Four Directions describes Yukon's opioid death toll as "devastating." Her organization offers support programs and services that focus on harm reduction.
"We have been in this crisis and we have been losing Yukoners for many years now — and it needs change," she said.
"We need to address the crisis at its root cause, and a lot of the stigma and, you know, encourage people to have open conversations about substance use and about preventing overdose."
Blood Ties has organized some events on Wednesday to mark International Overdose Awareness Day. Renwick-Shields said it's about educating people about the opioid crisis, and honouring those who have been directly affected.
There will also be training available for administering naloxone — a drug that's used to counter the effects of an opioid overdose.
Also on Tuesday, a safe consumption site in Whitehorse was slated to open but it's now been delayed by a month.
According to Yukon's coroner, those who've died from overdose have ranged from young people "barely out of their teens" to those in their 70s.
"Friends, colleagues, family members — all loved contributors to all of our Yukon communities. More and more Yukon families are being left with a devastating reality found in the wake of these lost lives. This is a pain that is now close to so many of us," Jones said in a statement.
Jones added that the hope is for Yukoners to keep taking the time to "listen and really hear what these deaths are telling us."
"May we find the wisdom and compassion to support well thought-out initiatives and to embrace struggling individuals; and together confront this continuing crisis."