Yukon to declare substance use emergency

Feb 4, 2022

According to Yukon’s Health Minister, the Hon. Tracy-Anne McPhee, the Yukon government plans to declare a substance use emergency. CBC interviewed McPhee in January and reported that McPhee made the recommendation during a meeting held with leaders earlier in the month.

McPhee explained that the goal of the substance use emergency declaration is to increase addiction and mental wellness services across Yukon, including implementation of drug testing capacity in communities and better resourced land-based treatments.

Furthermore, McPhee added that declaring a substance use emergency across the territory is not about ‘getting tough on crime,’ but is aimed to support communities affected by the opioid crisis.

“We have an absolute health emergency here in the territory.” McPhee told CBC News, “There are services, there are ways in which we can support individuals who are addicted to these drugs and who choose to use them and we want to make sure that we understand and shift the focus. We need to know that this is a harm reduction approach and that this is a health emergency here in the territory.”

Moreover, McPhee added that the territory’s 2022-2023 budget will include proposals to increase resources for the RCMP, as well as for mental wellness substance use units, a safe consumption site, and a safe supply program.

“We’re looking at an additional outreach van, and a new, updated opioid action plan will encompass these commitments and commitment to the FASD [Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder] action plan and the MMIWG [Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls] calls to action,” said McPhee.

In addition, McPhee added that the 2022-2023 budget also sets out $10 million for the short stay psychiatric unit set to be completed at the Whitehorse General Hospital.

McPhee also expressed concerns regarding the use of toxic drugs across Yukon, as it “witnessing an increase in drugs containing benzodiazepines.”

In November 2021, Dr. Heather Jones, Yukon’s chief coroner for the territory, released data demonstrating that Yukon has the highest rate of deaths due to opioids in Canada, with 48.4 opioid-related deaths per 100,000 people, compared to the national average of 19.4 deaths from opioids per 100,000 people. In recent weeks, vigils and marches were held across the territory to honour the individuals who have lost their lives to addiction, while the Carcross/Tagish First Nations have already declared a state of emergency in connection to the drug crisis.