Yukon getting federal help to study opioid abuse

A public health officer is being deployed to the territory, to help local officials get a handle on what's been called an 'opioid crisis'.

Public health officer will spend 6 months analysing what's been called an 'opioid crisis' in the territory

A stash of fentanyl pills seized by Yukon police last summer. Ottawa is sending a public health officer to the territory this fall to help provide a more detailed picture of opioid use and overuse in the territory. (RCMP)

The federal government is sending a public health officer to help analyze opioid use in the Yukon. The Public Health Agency of Canada says the deployment comes at the request of the territory.

The person — not yet named — is expected to arrive by the end of October, and will spend six months working out of the office of Yukon's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Brendan Hanley.

Hanley says the public health officer will focus on providing a more detailed picture of opioid use and overuse in the territory. There have been similar deployments to other Canadian jurisdictions, he says.

The Yukon Coroner's Service confirmed last spring that there had been five deaths in the territory over the previous year related to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid. One emergency room doctor in Whitehorse has called it an "opioid crisis" in Yukon. 

According to Hanley, the visiting health officer will help bring together information from a number of different sources, such as emergency department and hospital visits, the drug information system, and the chief coroner.

He says the focus will be on developing "a more systematic way" of working together.

'Going pretty much full steam'

With the federal help, Hanley says Yukon will be "able to get analysis to a greater depth than we are able to produce at the moment."

The goal of that analysis is to help inform things like overdose prevention strategies and addictions treatment.

According to the federal government, the public health officer will be named in the upcoming weeks.

'We've certainly had tragedies with fentanyl and I expect we will have more,' said Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon's chief medical officer of health. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Hanley says he's happy to have the federal support.

"We have been going pretty much full steam over the summer months in a number of areas to look at what we can do better," he says. "There's still work to be done, but I think we've made substantial progress."

He highlights the awareness that resulted from the broad roll-out of take-home naloxone kits, as well as the opioid working group that is developing new guidelines for treating addiction.

"We've certainly had tragedies with fentanyl and I expect we will have more," said Hanley.

"But I think the future is looking better for how we are able to address addictions and opioid use in general."


Alexandra Byers is an award-winning journalist with CBC North in Whitehorse. Before she moved to Yukon, she freelanced as a journalist and videographer in Uganda. Prior to that she produced investigative and breaking news with the CBC News Investigative Unit and CBC News Network in Toronto.


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