Participants learn how to administer naloxone. Eighty-eight people learned how to administer the overdose-reversing drug in Whitehorse on Aug. 30, 2019. (Julien Gignac/Yukon News)

Almost 100 Yukoners are better prepared to reverse overdoses

‘It’s everybody’s responsibility if a Yukoner dies from overdose’

Learning how to administer naloxone was only half of the benefit of a pop-up training session put on by Blood Ties Four Directions. It also helped Yukoners approach addiction from a different light, according to participant Bonita Hughes.

“It helps reduce stigma, taking people’s fear of addiction away,” said Hughes, one of 88 people to learn how to use the life-saving drug on Aug. 30, “because I think there’s a big stigma out there about addiction, and I think there’s a lot of blaming and shaming and I think we need to move away from that as a community because people with addictions, they’re our community members.”

Blood Ties organized the event to coincide with International Overdose Awareness Day. The goal was to have 100 people trained to administer naloxone during a two-hour period — five people for every death there’s been in the Yukon since the opioid crisis began in 2016. Twenty Yukoners have died since then.

Across Canada, more than 11,000 people have died because of opioids, said Jesse Whelen, a harm reduction counsellor at Blood Ties. He MC’d the event.

When someone overdoses, they’re at risk of asphyxiation. Naloxone reverses this, re-opening airways.

Using the kit is simple. It’s designed that way. It took less than 10 minutes to learn how to use.

Blood Ties executive director Patricia Bacon said all Canadians should be able to recognize the signs of an overdose, regardless if you have a kit on your person. This, she added, was central to the event, which was located just outside Horwoods Mall.

“That you can know when to call 911. I think, today, recognizing an overdose is as important as recognizing the signs of a heart attack,” said Bacon, adding that the life expectancy of Canadians has stalled since the opioid crisis began.

On a per capita basis, the Yukon is behind B.C. and Alberta when it comes to having the most opioid-related deaths in the country.

During her speech, Bacon said mitigating the crisis goes beyond political stripe — that it doesn’t matter who’s in power, the thinking behind mitigating the crisis shouldn’t change.

“I think it’s not necessarily on the government, right, it’s on community,” she told the News afterwards. “It’s everybody’s responsibility if a Yukoner dies from overdose.”

Asked what needs to happen to improve the situation, Bacon said that, among other things, there needs to be more subsidized housing, complete with people trained in substance use issues.

“We need sensible drug policy,” she said. “For example, decriminalizing simple possession of illicit drugs such as a heroin and cocaine. I’d rather be uncomfortable and have these laws that maybe make me feel uncomfortable or controversial than see another person die.”

Overdoses are wholly preventable, Bacon said, that’s the bottom-line.

“Every single time.

“There’s a lot of Yukoners who are quite woke and quite progressive about stuff like this and recognize that, you know, sometimes it’s the silent majority as opposed to the vocal minority.”

MP Larry Bagnell attended the event. During an unscripted part of his speech, he said, “From my perspective, if a person has an addiction, it’s an addiction issue, it’s a health issue, not a criminal issue and the person should not be deterred from going for treatment because of that, so anything we can do to help people go for the treatment they need will help eliminate some of these deaths.”

Blood Ties teaches people how to administer naloxone every week. You can learn how at its needle exchange from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday to Friday. The organization also has an outreach van that does the same thing from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., Monday to Saturday.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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Naloxone is drawn into a syringe. Eighty-eight people learned how to administer the overdose-reversing drug in Whitehorse on Aug. 30, 2019. (Julien Gignac/Yukon News)

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