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Emily Jones and Dr. Brendan Hanley

Yukon’s fentanyl death toll rises to eight

The official number of confirmed fentanyl deaths in the Yukon has climbed by one, the Star has learned.

By Taylor Blewett on January 10, 2018

The official number of confirmed fentanyl deaths in the Yukon has climbed by one, the Star has learned.

Heather Jones, the territory’s acting chief coroner, told the Star today the deaths of eight people in the territory can be attributed to the drug.

In an earlier interview Tuesday, she said additional toxicology results are still pending “for a number of cases.”

When the Star last reported the number of lives lost in the Yukon to the potent opioid on Oct. 11, 2017, seven deaths had been officially confirmed since April 2016, when the first occurred.

Jones said the additional death took place prior to Oct. 11. The wait for toxicology results can be as long as six months, she explained.

The territory outsources its toxicology testing to B.C. – a province grappling with its own deadly opioid crisis and a long queue for toxicology results.

Jones would not identify where in the territory the deaths happened, as this could lead to the identification of the victims, she explained.

Emily Jones, a harm reduction and wellness counsellor at the Blood Ties Four Directions Centre, said overdoses are happening “all the time.”

And it’s not regular fentanyl users at the greatest risk of a deadly overdose, she explained.

“They know their dose, they know how much they can take safely, they know what it does to their body.”

The real danger lies in the unknown – buying from a new dealer, uncertainty around whether a drug someone is taking contains fentanyl, and how much.

Fentanyl is used for medical purposes in the Yukon, and it will continue to be, according to Dr. Brendan Hanley, the territory’s chief medical officer of health.

It’s used in hospitals in injectable form for acute pain management, and in patch form by prescription for chronic pain control, he explained.

While there is potential for the legal drug to be diverted or misused, Hanley said, that’s not what’s driving the uptick in fentanyl deaths in the territory.

“For the most part, when people are dying from fentanyl, it’s from illegal fentanyl on the streets. It’s fentanyl that contaminates or imitates other drugs.”

One of the theories about the origin of illegal fentanyl in the Yukon helps explain this hidden danger.

“It’s a really expensive drug here in Canada. But it’s a really, really cheap drug in China,” Emily Jones explained.

When people are making drugs – Oxycontin, for example – or their base powder in China, fentanyl is cut in as a cost-effective filler.

After shipment to Canada and moving into the hands of drug dealers, the fentanyl-cut drugs’ contents are often unknown.

Fentanyl is roughly 50 to 100 times more toxic than morphine, according to the Department of Health and Social Services website.

Posted there are the symptoms of a fentanyl overdose – acute sleepiness, a slow heartbeat, cold and clammy skin, and difficulty breathing, talking or walking.

The locations of free, take-home naloxone kits – which can be used to reverse an opioid overdose – are also listed on the website.

The naloxone program is one way Health and Social Services continues to address opioid overdoses and deaths in the territory, departmental spokesperson Pat Living told the Star today.

Educational resources are also being provided in schools.

As well, last fall, the department brought on a part-time opioid overdose prevention co-ordinator, charged mainly with the naloxone program.

Information and public awareness campaigns are facilitated on an ongoing basis, Living noted.

“I think probably the work that we’re doing is proportionate to the current situation,” Hanley said.

Based on urine samples collected in the hospital, Hanley said between zero and two overdoses are typically reported every week.

“It’s only one way of monitoring,” he noted. “We know that it doesn’t give us the complete picture.”

An “opioid surveillance” officer was supposed to start work under the chief medical officer in November 2017 to collect detailed, opioid-related information in the territory.

The position start date was delayed, Hanley said today, and his or her work has just begun in the last few weeks.

As the officer works in the territory over the next 15 months, a clearer picture of fentanyl use and harms should emerge through the data he or she gathers, according to Hanley.

Comments (7)

Up 4 Down 0

Max Mack on Jan 13, 2018 at 11:49 am

As I've pointed out before, these dramatic-sounding proclamations of "fentanyl-related" and "opioid-related" deaths may be merely part and parcel of the propaganda push by health authorities to further demonize opioids.

Finding traces of fentanyl in a lab does not mean the person died of fentanyl.

Up 8 Down 0

Juniper Jackson on Jan 11, 2018 at 6:31 pm

Junkies know they are playing 'russian' roulette when they buy all these fun street drugs.. death is the chance they are willing to take... granted, this isn't a social strata that I associate with, but I do know 2 drug users..one spends $700 a month on pot.. doesn't have a damned thing..always scratching for a ride, borrowing a buck here, 10 bucks there from everyone.. but..oh.. she doesn't have a problem..the other one describes herself as a weekend partier..

I would not put one cent into saving these lives...they don't care..I don't care..but I would put a fortune into trying to find out why people want this s*** so much.. what happened to loving your life just because it's life? Not long ago in, I think it was Ontario, a man and his wife died in their living room of street drugs with 4 young children in the house.. was it worth it? All the junkies who read this and say..uh..duh..I'm not a junkie, i just enjoy it on Friday nights.. you are eventually going to pay the price with your life.. is it worth it?

Guncache..I cannot afford an EPI pen and I am sooooooo careful to check for food content, nuts and shellfish.. but it's a risk every day for a child... EPI pens should be free for the asking, just like naloxone.

Up 3 Down 0

ProScience Greenie on Jan 11, 2018 at 12:56 pm

A gigantic difference between legalizing weed, something that many all across the political spectrum support, and these extremely dangerous drugs and scum involved.

It is easier in CoW to go downtown and get a handful of pills or crack than it is to get a bag of weed. That's how bad it is. And it's not just 'lowlifes' pushing it. There's a lot of suit and tie types Outside and here behind it that are affiliated with the gangs and organized crime involved.

Up 2 Down 0

Concerned on Jan 11, 2018 at 12:45 pm

This piece seems to say that the drugs themselves with illegal fentanyl come from China because it's really expensive here and fentanyl is used as 'filler' in drugs like Oxycontin? This could confuse people who are on prescription narcotics to worry their drugs could contain this illegal fentanyl as 'filler' in their medication. The illegal fentanyl is not medical grade and comes into North America in a powder form usually from China and then makes its way into the drug trades in Canada and the US. It is then mixed into heroin (or passed off as heroin) and pressed into counterfeit Oxycontin pills that only contain fentanyl, no oxycodone. Also to say that regular fentanyl users aren't at the 'greatest risk' for overdose because they know their dose is concerning when these drugs are coming from the black market and have varying amounts of fentanyl not to mention with carfentanil making its way into the Canadian markets. Anyone who uses these drugs are at great risk for overdose.

Up 8 Down 0

Guncache on Jan 10, 2018 at 10:14 pm

So the government gives away free naloxone kits to illegal drug users. How about giving free epi pens to those who need them.

Up 5 Down 0

jc on Jan 10, 2018 at 9:20 pm

Maybe some day the Liberals will be open to legalizing it. They could tax it, put up shooting stations, train counseling staff to deal with the users etc. Just think of the wonderful benefits, possibilities and challenges. They would have to raise the social welfare allowances mind you, but hey, there's a lot of workers out there who wouldn't mind having the Libs raise their taxes - for such a wonderful program like this.

Up 3 Down 0

My Opinion on Jan 10, 2018 at 4:44 pm

Actually knowing people that have died from this being in their drugs has to be a much better deterrent then a label saying it is bad for your health. Right? When will people learn? Drugs will kill you.

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