The topic of the ongoing drug overdose crisis and its effects on Whitehorse and the Yukon as a whole were the subject of recent in depth discussions that left participants hopeful for the future.
The discussion was hosted through an online video conference by Blood Ties Four Directions Centre and the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition on June 8 and 10. The event called “Getting to Tomorrow: Ending the Overdose Crisis” included participants representing health care, government, First Nations, law enforcement, harm reduction workers and people with lived experience of drug use and addiction.
Bronte Renwick-Shields, Blood Ties’ executive director said she found the thoughtful conversations around the issue hopeful and inspiring. She said this comes as new initiatives, which advocates in the Yukon have been pushing for a long time, seem on their way to coming to fruition.
The most recent territorial budget earmarked $1 million for a safe-supply and supervised consumption site in Whitehorse with an opening date targeted for Aug. 31.
Renwick-Shields said the continued treatment of substance use as a criminal issue remains a challenge. Drawing from last week’s discussion, she said decriminalization of drug possession would help alleviate users’ fear of accessing emergency health services for an overdose, potentially preventing deaths.
She added that the dialogue covered the need for support services aimed at preventing overdoses in communities outside Whitehorse and she hopes to see more of those in the future as they also have the potential to be lifesaving.
Donald MacPherson, the executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Council, said the dialogue in Whitehorse is similar to conversations across the country.
MacPherson said he has seen that conversation play in the Yukon in a similar way to other Canadian communities.
Canada’s current drug policy has showed itself to be a failure by the recent rise of strong synthetic opioids, which MacPherson said have displaced the heroin trade across North America. A toxic drug supply has been an ongoing problem in the Yukon for years, which only accelerated in 2020 when the territory logged 14 overdose deaths. This was more than double the 2019 total.
Already in 2021, three fatal overdoses have involved fentanyl and a fourth has involved the even more toxic carfentanil.
Following the online discussion, MacPherson said he was struck by the degree to which the drug users who participated described being stigmatized in the Yukon. He said he also saw considerable hope that things are moving in the right direction regarding how the issue of drugs is handled. He said he sees a strong community in the Yukon willing to work toward solutions.
“It’s hard to hear people arguing for the status quo when the status quo is such an abysmal disaster,” MacPherson said.
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org