The Yukon’s Coroners Service says the area’s opioid overdose rate per capita is now the highest in Canada, with 48.4 reported deaths per 100,000 people.
Yukon’s chief coroner Heather Jones says opioid fatalities now represent more than 20 percent of all deaths investigated by the service between January and November 26 of this year.
Jones says in a news release that the deaths should be viewed as a medical crisis.
Since the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020, Jones says there have been 32 drug overdose deaths in Yukon and all except one related to fentanyl, a potent opioid responsible for Canadian overdoses.
Since the overdose crisis began in 2016, Jones says British Columbia has consistently led the country with the highest rates of opioid deaths, but recent data indicates the Yukon has overtaken those figures.
Jones says most people are dying alone in their homes and warns that naloxone is becoming less effective against “the increased toxicity of drugs.”
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The service says it does not collect race-specific information, but Kwanlin Dunn First Nation Chief Doris Bill says she believes First Nations people are “disproportionately affected.”
“This is no longer a crisis. This is an emergency,” she said in an interview. “We need more resources and we need the federal government to help us.”
She says she is calling on the government to “keep all hands on deck” and to review the Yukon government’s opioid strategy to identify and fill existing gaps in the service.
“We, as leaders, need to come together and talk to find solutions because it can’t go on like this. We are losing too many good people.”
She says the Safe Consumption Site in Whitehorse that opened in September should have Indigenous-specific cultural support available.
“It is already quite difficult for vulnerable Indigenous peoples to access services and programs, and a lot of it traces back to residential schools, among other things, so it is really important that we have the proper cultural support for our people. “
Ontario released a report last week that found its illegal overdose death rate for indigenous peoples doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic.