A sobering increase in opioid and addiction-related deaths across the territory has spurred Yukon-wide action.
“Addiction has hit our community super hard,” said Nicky Myke, a Whitehorse resident in her mid-thirties, on Jan. 11. “I’ve lost probably between 20 and 30 friends suddenly from opioid overdoses, suicide or from long-term effects from alcohol.”
Myke is drug-free now, but still sees people she cares about die in her periphery. Last week was particularly hard.
A number of deaths were addressed by the Carcross/Tagish First Nation (C/TFN), though they are still publicly unconfirmed by the Yukon’s coroner.
On Jan. 7, C/TFN posted a letter on their website with condolences to three C/TFN families and called for an emergency meeting on the “on-going opioid crisis that is plaguing our Nation.”
Myke formulated the idea of a march as a call to action and way of demonstrating care, concern and hope for people suffering from addictions.
“With the last three in one week — I said that has to stop. Something has to give,” she said.
Lyndsay Amato, Myke’s friend and a C/TFN citizen, said the same thing: “Enough is enough.”
Amato attended the action-focused meeting on Monday in Carcross and came away saying, “We need to stop brushing this under the rug, we need to start calling it what it is. Our friends and our family members need to start being honest with each other.”
Amato has family and friends all over the territory. She knows people in Carmacks and Teslin. Both Myke and Amato knew people who were organizing a set of demands from Dawson City about drug services in that town. The idea started spreading and taking shape.
They reached out to more Yukon communities. Mayo, another community heartbroken by deaths, signed on as well. As of Wednesday, it looks like there will be shows of support orchestrated simultaneously across the territory at 2 p.m. on Jan. 15.
COVID recommendations will be followed. Different communities had various levels of comfort with in-person events. Some will be live-streamed. Ross River suggested they would ask people to light a candle in their window as a show of solidarity.
That idea caught on too, and now anyone in the Yukon can show support by lighting a candle at 2 p.m. Jan. 15, and placing it in a window.
Myke has seen how “the pandemic has driven people further into isolation, which is horrible for mental health and addiction.”
She also notices that in the Yukon, “you see young people dying of alcohol-related damage, to your liver to your pancreas. Addiction doesn’t just instantly take you — it can also harm you later.”
Both Myke and Amato have seen the pain and tragedies of addiction and good lives lost. Now they are working to craft a message for decision-makers in the territory, and to that end, have attached a survey form to the events page, asking people what they would like to see happen.
The Whitehorse event will be a march starting at the Chilkoot Hotel at 2 p.m.
Community vigils will be held in-person in Carcross at the fire pit behind Haa Shagoon Hidi; in Teslin behind the Health and Social Services building; and in Mayo at the JV Clark School. Updates to locations will be found on the Facebook event page, named Call for Action- addiction & mental health.
All over the Yukon, people are asked to light a candle in memory of those lost to addiction, to mental health issues and for those who are still suffering.
Lawrie Crawford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Yukon News