Canada Spike in deaths causes Yukon to declare overdose emergency

00:17  23 january  2022
00:17  23 january  2022 Source:   msn.com

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WHITEHORSE — The Yukon government has declared a substance-use health emergency after toxic drugs pushed overdose deaths to new peaks.

  Spike in deaths causes Yukon to declare overdose emergency © Provided by The Canadian Press

Health Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said Thursday the drugs are killing people and creating a mental health crisis in every community in Yukon.

While the declaration doesn't provide the government with more powers, she said it does express a commitment to make the problem a priority and indicates the need for a co-ordinated response.

"And it is a call to all Yukoners to help with the responses and with the solutions going forward," she told a news conference. "It is also, I hope, a recognition of this as a health emergency, not as a criminal situation."

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Residents need to know that toxic drugs are in their communities and that it's not safe to use drugs alone, she said.

"Far too many are dying in our communities and here in Whitehorse," she said.

"There are no right words for news like this. It is truly heartbreaking."

Dr. Catherine Elliott, the acting chief medical health officer, said there were a record 23 deaths last year, a 475 per cent increase from 2019.

Statistics released last year showed the territory had the highest per capita opioid overdose death rate in Canada at 48.4 per 100,000 people.

Chief coroner Heather Jones said in the first weeks of this year four more deaths were confirmed, while three others are thought to be drug-related.

Toxicology reports show benzodiazepines, in combination with opioids, were factors in a significant number of the deaths, she said.

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"This is deadly. Many deaths have been attributed to cocaine and fentanyl combinations. Alcohol has also been found to be a factor in some of these deaths."

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Those affected include people in their 20s up to those in their 70s, Jones said.

"When we narrow this down to the most vulnerable population, it appears to be men in their early 40s," she added.

McPhee said the government recognizes immediate action is necessary. A licensed practical nurse from the supervised consumption site will be at the Whitehorse emergency shelter during the day. The nurse will help promote the supervised consumption site, she said.

The government will also host a mental wellness summit in partnership with Yukon First Nations in the coming weeks, she said.

Access to treatment has been affected by COVID-19, she said, adding that physical distancing and other health measures used during the pandemic have isolated people.

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Government agencies will also work with Indigenous groups to reach out to those affected, McPhee said.

"I think that could be everything from ad hoc situations where individuals might spend time with elders and others, to full-blown treatment services availability in grounded trauma, informed care and counselling," she said.

"A co-ordinated priority response from this government and from our partners is new. It's not been done before."

RCMP Chief Supt. Scott Sheppard said he believes a solution could be found through better health measures, although housing, mental health and poverty are also issues that need to be addressed.

Enforcement remains important when used in conjunction with various health tools, he said.

"If we are insufficient in our enforcement activities, we will create a vacuum and we will leave the illegal drug trade to regulate itself," he said.

"In so doing, we will see an increase in violence. We will see an increase in deaths. We will probably see a return to shootings. And in all actuality, we will certainly see an increase in the amount of drugs in circulation."

Asked if the RCMP has enough enforcement resources, Sheppard replied: "We can always use more resources and I've said this since the first day I arrived here."

— By Hina Alam in Vancouver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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