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WHITEHORSE – The recently released Yukon Health Status Report 2021 is painting a tragic picture of the Yukon’s opioid crisis, and it is clear the current Liberal government’s approach is not working. The report shows our territory had the highest rate of fatalities as a percentage of the population of any jurisdiction in Canada.
The report says 24 Yukoners died in 2021 from opioids, which is a 140 percent increase from the 10 deaths in 2020, and up 500 percent from 2019. It also shows that between 2016 and 2022, 71 Yukoners died from opioid poisoning. The report indicates the Yukon drug supply is contaminated, and 92 percent of the deaths were accidental.
“In January 2022, the Liberal government declared a Substance Use Health Emergency,” said Health and Social Services Critic Brad Cathers. “Since then, an executive committee has been formed, and meetings have been held with other governments. However, the Liberal government has not opened even one new addiction treatment bed. The declaration of a Substance Use Health Emergency is not a substitute for action.”
The Yukon Party Official Opposition supports effective harm reduction as one aspect of combatting this crisis, but more must be done to prevent deaths from occurring. There needs to be an increased focus on prevention, treatment, and enforcement. These actions should include making addictions and mental health services more available in all communities, improving aftercare and diversion programs, and giving the RCMP more resources to target the drug dealers who are responsible for selling these illegal and toxic drugs.
The Yukon government is currently reviewing its 2018 Opioid Action Plan, which has sadly failed. The number one goal of any substance abuse action plan should be to help as many people as possible break free from their addictions and live healthy lives. As noted in the Health Status Report, there is no Yukon-wide strategy. We strongly urge the government to develop an overarching strategy addressing problematic substance use and related harms, as suggested by the Chief Medical Officer of Health in the report.