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City council considers opioid crisis contributions

The City of Whitehorse says it is looking at what it can do to help address the ongoing opioid crisis.
A vigil attendee helps light another’s candle at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter on Jan. 19. Coun. Michelle Friesen brought up the crisis in city council after attending a number of vigils. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News file)

The City of Whitehorse says it is looking at what it can do to help address the ongoing opioid crisis.

At Whitehorse city council’s Jan. 24 meeting, Coun. Michelle Friesen questioned city staff about what role the city can play in addressing the issue. There’s been seven confirmed opioid-related deaths in the territory since the new year.

“We are losing our youth and members of our community at an alarming rate,” an emotional Friesen said. “I know what it’s like to see someone that you love or that you care about struggle with addiction. And to wonder if every time the phone rings it’s going to be that call.”

She said that since attending a number of vigils, she’s been wondering what the city can do to help address issues around addiction and mental health issues.

Interim city manager Jeff O’Farrell said that work starts with providing the city’s full support to agencies that are “leading the charge” on it, in this case the territory’s department of health and social services. A number of meetings have already happened over the last week with government ministers, First Nations chiefs and Yukon MP Brendan Hanley, as well as mayors in communities around the territory where the importance of tackling the issue in a compassionate, non-judgemental way has been emphasized.

Speaking specifically to the city’s actions, O’Farrell said a few actions have been identified including ensuring Naloxone training provided to staff is up to date, offering Naloxone training refreshers to staff, replacing Naloxone kits that need replacing, looking at where additional kits can be placed in city facilities and providing more signage about placement.

He also pointed to the city’s communications platforms as a way to help get messaging out.

“I will go on to say though that we, throughout the course of this week and in the next week, we’ll be consulting across the organization to see what other ideas exist because I’m sure there’s more,” he said.

Coun. Ted Laking also proposed providing vouchers for bus fares and rebates to groups like Blood Ties Four Directions.

“I think that every little bit goes a long way and so even if we can help groups like that through levers that are available to us, I think that that sort of work is important as well,” he said.

Mayor Laura Cabott also reflected on the current situation, noting the city and other levels of government are looking at what they can do to address it.

“There’s no magic bullet on this one,” she said. “We are in an unprecedented situation. This opioid crisis is all across North America. I don’t quite understand why Whitehorse is seeing the numbers that we are but we definitely are. For a very small community, we’ve had a number of individuals that have died because of this.”

Cabott stressed the importance of taking a whole community approach, noting “there’s a lot of work ahead of us.”

Contact Stephanie Waddell at

Stephanie Waddell

About the Author: Stephanie Waddell

I joined Black Press in 2019 as a reporter for the Yukon News, becoming editor in February 2023.
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