Mental Wellness Summit achieved its goal: Yukon health minister

Broad range of ideas from forum intended to inform new opioid action plan

A woman carries a naloxone kit at a vigil outside the Whitehorse emergency shelter on Jan. 19. The Government of Yukon’s Mental Wellness Summit, which was held on Feb. 14 and 15, is intended to inform the new opioid action plan. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)

A woman carries a naloxone kit at a vigil outside the Whitehorse emergency shelter on Jan. 19. The Government of Yukon’s Mental Wellness Summit, which was held on Feb. 14 and 15, is intended to inform the new opioid action plan. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)

The Yukon’s new opioid action plan will be as broad as the range of topics explored at the territorial government’s virtual Mental Wellness Summit, according to Tracy-Anne McPhee, the minister of Health and Social Services.

“Our goal with this summit is to share ideas and to spark a conversation and action,” McPhee told attendees on screen during the conference last week. “It is a really important step with the ongoing mental wellness response to Yukon’s substance use health emergency.”

The two-day event was intended to inform the Yukon government’s new opioid action plan and form part of the territory’s response to the substance use health emergency declaration, which the government declared on Jan. 20.

The Yukon government’s online conference consisted of a series of live streams run through a web portal from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Feb. 14 and 15. The summit achieved its goal, although “tangible action is yet to come,” McPhee said in a phone interview on Feb. 17.

“We have committed to doing more work through this format,” she said.

The 30 presenters listed on the forum’s website spoke widely about mental health and potential rural health services and tools that exist such as the door-to-door delivery of naloxone kits and a “use alone” app for people who use drugs to have their phone check in on them. McPhee said there were 551 registrants in total.

In the interview, McPhee said she expects the new plan will be “an extremely broad document” that will build on the old plan and ideas raised at the summit.

The old plan, released Nov. 2018, has effectively expired. Its four pillars are: harm reduction and take-home naloxone kits, public awareness and education, opioid surveillance and opioid management. A Mental Wellness Summit preceded the plan that was held over two days in October 2017.

Yukon MP Brendan Hanley was the territory’s former chief medical officer of health who signed off on Yukon’s old plan, which Hanley previously described as a “progress report. The plan was criticized for not going far enough.

Hanley told the online audience that while he appreciates that the summit looks at mental wellness, “the harsh reality is that opioid deaths require an immediate focus and an emergency response.” Hanley said pandemic stresses about the uncertainty of the pandemic and dealing with COVID-19 restrictions have exacerbated the opioid crisis since it started worsening in 2016.

“My message to people that may be questioning action as a result of the declaration in January of the substance use health emergency is that we have many, many pieces of action that have taken place already and that will continue to evolve,” McPhee said in an interview.

For example, McPhee cited door-to-door drug testing and naloxone kit training, increased hours at the safe consumption site and increased emergency measures and emergency medical services staff at the Whitehorse emergency shelter.

No dollar figures were given when asked about the cost to run the summit and end the emergency declaration.

“The coordinated response is a top priority and funding will follow,” McPhee said. “The funds will support the solutions we arrive at because they absolutely must.”

As for the timeline, McPhee said it could take years, and the opioid action plan will be put out when it’s ready.

McPhee said the key topics that came to the surface at the summit will be part of focus groups going forward. “There will be [a focus group] on decriminalization of currently illicit drugs to determine whether that’s a solution that is viable for our territory or not,” she said.

Focus groups will be held this spring, she said during the conference, followed by a larger in-person event sometime after the government eases COVID-19 restrictions.

“The substance use health emergency is a call to action by government for government and for Yukon citizens to all do their part to address this terrible situation, this critical tragedy where we’re continuing to lose Yukoners,” McPhee said.

During closing remarks at the event, McPhee said many of the elders who would normally do closing prayers were all at a funeral.

In the release, presentations can be viewed online starting Feb. 17 from the presenter lineup (

The release indicates people can submit their feedback and ask questions in the public input section at

A release stated the new opioid action plan will be released later this year.

Contact Dana Hatherly at

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