Yukon health centres gear up with naloxone in preparation for summer

Yukon health centres gear up with naloxone in preparation for summer.

Naloxone trainer Holly Winter said offering free kits, classes will create a mass of trainees

Employee at Mental Health and Wellness Services organises naloxone kits for Dawson City. (Stephanie Wood/CBC)

Health centres in Yukon are gearing up their naloxone resources for summer.

The Mental Wellness and Substance Use Services Centre in Whitehorse is offering weekly naloxone training classes for the public and distributing naloxone kits across the territory.

Holly Winter, the opioid overdose prevention coordinator at the centre, began the training program to make naloxone training more accessible.

In a small community like this, one person dying affects a lot of people.- Holly Winter, opioid overdose prevention coordinator

"I do 60-minute training [sessions] where a lot of other people are doing 15 minutes. And that's because a lot of people ask questions, and I encourage questions," said Winter, who's been involved in social work since 1986, working for many years on the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver. 

"The pharmacies don't use oranges and show how to use vanishing point needles, and that's stuff we do in training."

The Yukon Coroner's Service told CBC there have been 13 opioid related deaths since April 2016. There have not been any confirmed yet for 2018.

"In a small community like this, one person dying affects a lot of people. It's important that the kits get out there and people know how to use them so that people don't die before they're able to get out of whatever they're in," said Winter.

Low-barrier training

Winter said many of the people coming to the classes are not drug users, and they vary from teachers, professionals training for their workplace, to people concerned for loved ones.

Trainees are not required to give their identities to take the class or get a kit.

Holly Winter, opioid overdose prevention coordinator, assembles a naloxone kit at Mental Wellness and Substance Use Services in Whitehorse. (Stephanie Wood)

"We wanted to make this as low-barrier as possible," she said.

Winter said the long classes also give participants a chance to work through any issues like being triggered by needles.

Cameron Grandy, the manager of the centre, said the training can lead to long-term effects for trainees who are users.

"Coming in here to get naloxone training may be the foot in door for someone to decide, 'I want to take this to the next step, maybe I wouldn't mind speaking to a counselor or joining a group,'" he said.

Dispelling common myths

Winter said the classes give her more time to educate people on fentanyl and naloxone and correct common misunderstandings.

For example, she said many people don't realize the naloxone only works for half an hour and they still need to call an ambulance.

You've basically put them into full detox, and it hurts.- Holly Winter

Another fear is having to hit somebody in the heart with the needle.

"I've dispelled that many times," she said. "We don't want people doing Pulp Fiction."

As well, naloxone can't be frozen. This means people can't keep kits in their cars because each time naloxone freezes and thaws, it becomes less effective.

Winter also has to explain the special needles that retract after they're injected. This is a safety feature, but Winter said the vanishing needle and loud click can shock people.

Another shock can be what happens after administering naloxone.

"Here you've gone and done this wonderful thing and saved somebody's life, you've gotten over your feelings about needles ... and they're not necessarily grateful," she said.

"You've basically put them into full detox, and it hurts."

Integrating services

All government health centres in Yukon provide free kits and have staff who can do training. 

Mental Wellness and Substance Use Services is a hub to assemble naloxone kits by hand and distributes them to health centres across the territory. According to their database, the centre has distributed 1,239 kits and trained 1,096 people since 2016.

The centre recently received 500 naloxone kits. Last Friday, they sent a shipment of 100 kits to Dawson City, that's preparing for the young, transient population boost in the summer.

"They went through a lot of kits last year, apparently," said Winter, adding that Dawson has been waiting for the kits for a month now.

She said the delay is because orders for kits can take two to five weeks, and then the kits still need to be put together before delivery.

Along with providing kits and classes, Grandy said different organizations have to work together to confront the opioid crisis. The centre works with organisations like the non-profit Blood Ties and the opioid pain management committee.

"It's really about integrating our services and collaborating with community members," he said.


Stephanie Wood is currently an intern at CBC Whitehorse. She is from the Squamish Nation in North Vancouver, B.C.