The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

The Blood Ties Four Directions outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in funding from the territorial government.

“It’s significant, and it’ll definitely aid our ability to support folks when other services aren’t open,” said Brontë Renwick-Shields, Blood Ties executive director.

The outreach van previously toured Whitehorse six evenings a week, from Monday to Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

The new funding means the van will now run on Sunday nights and on holidays. The extended hours could substantially impact access to services, Renwick-Shields said.

“I do believe that the van is a needed resource any night of the week, and having it off the road for one night, or potentially two if there’s a long weekend, is a gap in service where folks may not have access to drug checking, harm reduction supplies or support on those evenings,” she said.

“Sundays and statutory holidays are very challenging days to get any services — buses don’t run and there aren’t many agencies open. So I think it’s a really valuable community resource.”

Running the van seven nights a week also offers service consistency for people who may not be aware of the van’s schedule “on the fly,” Renwick-Shields added.

“We can just guarantee that we’re on the road every night,” she said.

People seeking the outreach van can text or call 867-334-1647. The van can also be reached via direct message to the Blood Ties Facebook account. People can additionally call the Blood Ties office during business hours to request a stop that evening. The van will travel anywhere within Whitehorse city limits.

The extra funding has been approved as a six-month pilot program. Renwick-Shields said budget negotiations are still underway and an exact dollar amount for the funding hasn’t yet been agreed upon.

The boost in funding comes after the Yukon’s chief coroner warned last week that three confirmed and one presumed overdose death have occurred since mid-January — what she called an “alarming rate” of drug-related deaths.

The Yukon government announced on Feb. 24 plans for ramping up its response to the overdose crisis.

“The opioid overdose crisis continues to be one of the most serious public health crises in Canada’s recent history,” says a Yukon government press release.

“The Government of Yukon is working with our community partners to expand drug-checking capacity in the territory, and to remind people not to use alone and to keep naloxone kits on hand.”

Outside of Whitehorse, the government’s Opioid Outreach Prevention Coordinator is working with mental wellness hubs and First Nations to provide harm reduction, naloxone and other supplies to communities. Opioid treatment services and a mental health nurse were also introduced in Dawson City last November.

The government also announced that it’s considering a safe drug supply plan.

Safe supply has been introduced in several other Canadian jurisdictions to combat the overdose crisis, which has been caused, in part, by street drugs contaminated by toxic levels of fentanyl.

Safe supply allows the prescription of pharmaceutical opioids as an alternative to street drugs.

An article published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal in August 2020 called safe drug supply a “pragmatic and ethical response” to the overdose crisis.

“In addition to directly addressing the toxic drug supply, safe supply initiatives greatly reduce the need to acquire money and drugs through the informal economy, which is life-changing for people caught up in the desperate pursuit of procuring drugs,” the article says.

The Yukon government said it is exploring safe supply in the Yukon with support from the federal government and Canadian Public Health Association.

Blood Ties Four Directions has long been an advocate for safe supply in the territory.

“We’re excited to hear that the Yukon government is considering a safe supply plan,” Renwick-Shields said.

“We hope that they move with expediency on such a plan. It will save lives, and we have seen how it has saved lives in other jurisdictions, and we’re excited to work with the government on how that plan can be implemented.”

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at gabrielle.plonka@yukon-news.com

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