Yukon MP prompts opioid crisis study

Jan 30, 2024

Following Yukon MP Brendan Hanley’s motion made earlier in 2023, the parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Health will examine Canada’s opioid epidemic and toxic drug crisis. Specifically, the study will evaluate federal, provincial, and territorial efforts to mitigate the ongoing opioid crisis.

According to a notice released from Hanley’s office, Yukon residents and other Canadians will be able to contribute to the study by submitting briefs to the committee. Moreover, the goal of the briefs is to allow the committee members to understand varying perspectives on the issue. Along with informing any recommendations the committee may make to Parliament, the briefs will be included in its report.

The notice also mentions that the toxic opioid crisis has continued despite a nationwide strategy and $359 million in spending approved over the next five years. In addition, it states that the goal of the new committee study is to “inform and adapt the government’s opioid response.”

“We needed to put some focus onto the toxic drug crisis,” Hanley said in his interview with the Whitehorse Star. “To use the study as a way to bring back public attention to the magnitude of the crisis.”

Furthermore, the motion requires the committee to hold a minimum of eight meetings, with one of them focused solely on Indigenous, rural, northern and remote communities. “In April 2016, when I was Chief Medical Officer of Health for the territory, we witnessed the first fentanyl death in the Yukon. In that same month, B.C. declared a public health emergency due to a shocking rise in opioid deaths in that province,” Hanley said in an earlier press conference held at the Yukon legislative building.

“Today, the Yukon has one of the highest opioid and toxic drug-related death rates in the country. Indigenous people remain disproportionately affected. We are determined to address the urgency of this crisis, as well as the need to focus on Indigenous, rural, northern, and remote communities,”

MP Brendan Hanley

Hanley mentioned that the safe injection and inhalation site, Blood Ties Four Directions Centre, located in downtown Whitehorse, has been beneficial in efforts to reduce opioid-related overdose deaths. “Yes, there have been likely averted deaths just because people come to choose to use in a supervised setting,” he said. “Yet the deaths go on,” he told the committee. “Lives and families are torn apart with overdose fatalities and injuries.”

Currently, Yukon faces Canada’s highest per capita death rate from illicit drugs. In 2022, Yukon chief coroner Dr. Heather Jones reported that last year, there were 25 recorded deaths attributed to toxic substances, 20 of which involved opioids. Since the territory’s population is about 43,000, these numbers place Yukon at the top in Canada for per capita illicit drug-related deaths, ahead of British Columbia. In January 2022, the Yukon declared its own substance use health emergency due to a spike in substance use-related harms and opioid-related deaths.