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‘Everything in our power’: Yukon’s health minister, top doctor react to 4 suspected substance use-related deaths in 4 days

Joint statement draws attention to existing response efforts on the ground
Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee in the Yukon Legislative Assembly on March 2. On April 21, McPhee and chief medical officer of health Sudit Ranade released a joint statement in response to recent suspected substance use-related deaths. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

The Yukon has been grappling with four suspected substance use-related deaths over four days last week. It has prompted the territory’s health minister and top doctor to call on Yukoners to watch out for each other.

The Yukon Coroner’s Service is investigating the series of deaths that occurred in Watson Lake, Haines Junction and Whitehorse between April 15 and April 18.

In an April 20 release, the coroner’s office said the deaths are believed to be unrelated but preventable.

On April 21, Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee and chief medical officer of health Sudit Ranade released a joint statement that acknowledges the toll being taken on communities across the Yukon in response to the deaths.

“The substance use health emergency continues to have a profound and devastating impact on our communities, with the toxic drug supply compounding the issue even further,” reads the statement.

“We extend our condolences and sympathy to all those whose lives have been impacted by substance use in their communities. We urge Yukoners to remain extremely vigilant, to never use alone and to always have someone present who can respond in case of an emergency.”

The Yukon government declared a territory-wide substance use health emergency on Jan. 20, 2022, with two First Nations — Carcross/Tagish First Nation in Carcross and the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun in Mayo — declaring their own states of emergency related to substance use since then.

So far this year the Yukon Coroner’s Service has confirmed three deaths since January to be substance-use involved, chief coroner Heather Jones said by email on April 20. She said another five deaths are “suspected” to be related to substance use, with four of these deaths having occurred since April 15.

In 2021 and 2022, toxic illicit drugs killed 25 Yukoners each year, according to a previous release by the coroner.

The latest statement from McPhee and Ranade acknowledges the situation has claimed “too many lives.”

“We recognize that each life lost is a tragedy and we are committed to doing everything in our power to help prevent further suffering,” reads the statement.

The pledges in the statement include expanding access to treatment and recovery services, implementing “harm reduction strategies” and increasing education and awareness about substance use in coordination with Yukon First Nations, community organizations and other governments.

“An essential component of our response is the emphasis on drug checking and naloxone,” reads the statement.

Blood Ties Four Directions, the Outreach Van and emergency medical services provide drug-checking services that can help identify potentially lethal components in drugs and decrease the likelihood of fatal overdoses, according to the statement. In addition, fentanyl test strips and training on how to use the strips can be found at all mental wellness and substance use service locations in the territory.

“We encourage individuals to take advantage of these services whenever possible to help ensure their safety and wellbeing,” reads the statement.

“Equally important is our focus on increasing the accessibility of naloxone kits, a life-saving resource that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. We urge Yukoners to familiarize themselves with how to use naloxone kits and keep them on hand, as this knowledge and preparedness can make a significant difference in emergency situations.”

In the statement, McPhee and Ranade are calling for a “compassionate and non-judgmental approach” to addressing substance use issues.

“We must come together as a community to support those who are struggling and encourage them to seek help. Compassion, understanding and empathy are key to creating an environment where our loved ones feel safe to access the resources and assistance they need on their path to recovery,” reads the statement.

“The substance use health emergency and the toxic drug supply have impacted every part of our society. We once again offer our sincerest condolences to all those affected as well as our resolve to address the issue and build safer, more resilient Yukon communities.”

In an email on April 20, Renée Francoeur in cabinet communications said the Yukon government is working on finalizing its substance use health emergency strategy which “incorporates a safer supply approach to help address the toxic drug supply issue.”

It will be released in the “coming months,” she said.

Contact Dana Hatherly at

Dana Hatherly

About the Author: Dana Hatherly

I’m the legislative reporter for the Yukon News.
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