Yukon coroner issues warning after apparent fentanyl overdose

A Yukoner appears to have died of an overdose of the powerful drug fentanyl. Chief Coroner Kirsten Macdonald took the unusual step of warning the public Thursday before her investigation is even complete.

A Yukoner appears to have died of an overdose of the powerful drug fentanyl.

Chief Coroner Kirsten Macdonald took the unusual step of warning the public Thursday before her investigation is even complete.

She said she’s doing it in the interest of public safety.

“Fentanyl is responsible for hundreds of deaths in Canada. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine. Fentanyl has been reported in other jurisdictions to be added to street drugs or misrepresented as another substance,” she said.

Macdonald is not releasing any more details about how the person died until the investigation is complete. She hasn’t said when the person died or released their age or gender.

She’s also not saying whether the victim had a prescription for fentanyl.

Fentanyl, a potent painkiller, is available via prescription but illicit knock-offs have been popping up alongside the real thing. The drug has been killing people across Canada.

British Columbia declared a public health emergency yesterday after more than 200 overdose deaths so far this year.

In Alberta, 272 people died of fentanyl overdoses in 2015.

A rise in the use of street fentanyl led the Yellowknife health department to issue a warning last year.

Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Brendan Hanley, issued his own warning today.

“Fentanyl has found its way into many illicit drugs, including OxyContin, heroin, cocaine and prescription drugs,” the statement says. “Users consuming their typical dose of OxyContin or other drugs may unexpectedly be exposed to lethal amounts of fentanyl.”

People who consume opioid drugs for recreational use should have a sober buddy who is able to call for help if needed, he said. They should also know the source of the drugs they’re taking, never mix drugs and start any new supply of drugs with very small doses in case it is laced with fentanyl or another contaminant.

Early symptoms of an overdose include trouble walking or talking, slow laboured breathing, slow heartbeat, cold clammy skin and severe sleepiness.

Hanley advises people to call 911 if they see these symptoms.

According to Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse there was only one death connected to fentanyl in the Yukon between 2009 and 2014.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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