The Yukon’s most recent overdose death involved carfentanil, according to Yukon Coroner Heather Jones.
The carfentanil-related death is the Yukon’s fifth overdose death in 2021, Jones confirmed in a March 11 press release.
It’s the first confirmed instance of carfentanil infiltrating the territory’s street drug supply.
Carfentanil is 4,000 times more potent than heroin and 10,000 times more toxic than morphine, according to Jones. It is also 100 times more toxic than fentanyl, which is already a driver of overdose deaths in the territory — taking the lives of three people this year, while a fourth death is pending toxicology results.
“Carfentanil is toxic and clearly not intended for use in any product that humans should be consuming. This is what is so very frightening about illicit drug use — an individual can never be certain what is in the product they are using,” Jones said.
The most recent death occurred in a rural Yukon community in late February, the coroner says.
“The loss of another citizen to one more opioid overdose is heartbreaking. We must look beyond the numbers and see the impact the grief and loss is having on our communities,” Jones said.
The upward trend of overdose deaths signals the need for substance supports and naloxone availability, said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley, adding that the territory should also explore safe drug supply.
Safe supply allows the prescription of opioids as an alternative to street drugs.
The Yukon government announced last month that it was considering safe supply in partnership with the federal government.
Yukon RCMP Superintendent Scott Sheppard said in a statement that education, health support and safe supply should all be contributing factors to quelling the trend of overdoses.
“While law enforcement plays a key role in deterring (illicit drug) activity, the root causes of substance use will still need to be addressed in a meaningful way,” Sheppard said.
Blood Ties Four Directions Centre provides drug testing at its Whitehorse office and outreach van, which can detect fentanyl and carfentanil in street drugs. Brontë Renwick-Shields, executive director, told the News that drug testing is not a fail-safe guarantee against carfentanil, however. The substance can be toxic in such small quantities that it may not always be detected.
While drug testing is still a helpful harm reduction measure, Renwick-Shields said that drug users should still carry naloxone and shouldn’t use drugs alone.
Contact Gabrielle Plonka at firstname.lastname@example.org