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Increase in overdose deaths in Yukon 'worrisome' and likely related to pandemic: organization

The executive director of Blood Ties Four Directions in Yukon says a recent spike in illicit drug-related deaths in the territory is "troublesome," and is likely related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

'There is a spike of overdoses all over the place,' says Blood Ties Four Directions executive director

Yukon health officials say seven people have suffered illicit drug-related deaths so far this year, and at least three of them involved fentanyl. (RCMP)

The executive director of Blood Ties Four Directions in Yukon says a recent spike in illicit drug-related deaths in the territory is "troublesome," and is likely related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"There is a spike of overdoses all over the place, and there is a correlation between COVID-19 and overdose. And I think that's for a number of really kind of nuanced and convoluted reasons," said Emily Jones.

"I think it's incredibly sad and a little bit worrisome."

Blood Ties Four Directions is a Whitehorse-based non-profit that offers harm reduction and other services to the city's vulnerable population. 

On Friday, territorial health officials said that seven people have suffered drug-related deaths in Yukon so far this year. Three of them were confirmed to involve fentanyl.

The territory's chief coroner said the numbers have more than doubled over the same period from last year.

Officials suggested that the increase may be related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but acknowledged that it was impossible to say for certain.

People are having to make choices, about what they can afford and what they have access to.- Emily Jones, Blood Ties Four Directions executive director

Jones also said there's some "guessing" involved, but that a connection is likely. She says many people are struggling right now, and that increases risk for drug users. 

"People are having to make choices, about what they can afford and what they have access to. And that actually puts people at risk of overdose," she said.

"They might not be using the same supplier, or they might have switched their drug of choice because they can't afford or they can't access the drugs that they might have accessed before."

Fentanyl testing still available

Health officials have said the recent deaths highlight the need to ensure people know that harm-reduction supports are still available. 

A Plexiglas shield was being installed in the Blood Ties Four Directions outreach van to protect clients and staff, said executive director Emily Jones. (Submitted by Emily Jones)

Jones agrees. She says Blood Ties Four Directions is still offering all of its regular services, including a needle exchange, naloxone kits and fentanyl testing.

One change though is that the fentanyl testing is now only offered at the Blood Ties Four Directions centre, and not through its Outreach Van.

The Outreach Van is otherwise operating as normal, she said.

"We had to do a little bit of work getting some Plexiglas to keep everyone safe, so it looks a little bit different, but we haven't had any reduction in services," she said.

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