In what Yukon Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost called a first since the opioid crisis began in 2016, the federal government will contribute funding to battle the epidemic in the territory.
The agreement, signed on Dec. 17 between Frost and MP Larry Bagnell, secures $500,000 from Ottawa over five years. The reserve, included in the 2018 federal budget, comes from the Emergency Treatment Fund, worth about $150 million.
The idea is that provinces and territories will match those funds.
The Yukon government, if approved in the next territorial budget, would provide about $445,000. This money would keep things like opioid treatment services at the referred clinic and the opioid overdose coordinator in place, said spokesperson Julie Menard, in a written statement.
“This, as you know, is a really serious crisis across Canada,” MP Larry Bagnell said. “We want to help out in this situation.”
The majority of the funds from Ottawa will go towards adding a full-time mental health nurse to the territory’s opioid treatment service. Starting in January, the nurse’s salary, including benefits, will be roughly $120,000 per year until 2023, according to the agreement.
“The idea is that more people will get access to treatment, and there’s treatment available. They don’t have to wait,” Bagnell said.
Eight such agreements have been signed so far across the country, including the Yukon. Each is distinct by jurisdiction.
“We’ll reevaluate in five years to see whether there’s still special needs,” Bagnell said. “We’ll see if this solves the problem, or makes a big dent in the problem, and see if there’s anything else we can do.”
The bi-lateral agreement first came to light in November when the territorial legislative assembly was still sitting.
Frost had told reporters then that the lack of funding from Ottawa was a “problem,” noting that federal supports had been provided to British Columbia and Alberta but not the Yukon, which ranks third when it comes to the number of opioid-related deaths on a per capita basis.
The agreement comes on the heels of news from chief coroner Heather Jones on Dec. 13 that 18 people have died from opioid-related overdoses since 2016, and more than half — 13 — involved fentanyl.
Frost said this shows the Yukon is “not immune.”
The money from Ottawa, Frost said, will keep already implemented strategies going and buttress the Yukon government’s opioid action plan that was released last month.
That plan included eventually establishing methadone and Suboxone treatment services in rural Yukon, potentially expanding drug checking services akin to the one found at Blood Ties Four Directions, which has a federal exemption, and investigating and making changes, where necessary, to prescription practices.
Contact Julien Gignac at firstname.lastname@example.org