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Yukon, federal gov'ts put $945K toward substance abuse treatment

The money is meant to address the territory's growing problem with opioids. There have been 18 confirmed opioid-related deaths in Yukon since 2016.

'We want to do everything possible that we can, to try and relieve this crisis,' says MP Larry Bagnell

Yukon Health Minister Pauline Frost and Yukon MP Larry Bagnell announced the new funding in Whitehorse on Monday. (Government of Yukon)

The Yukon and federal governments are putting more money toward substance abuse treatment in the territory, in response to a growing problem with opioids.

In an agreement announced Monday in Whitehorse, the two governments will give $945,000 to Yukon's Opioid Treatment Service for a number of initiatives.

The money will go toward social work and mental health services, including adding a new full-time mental health nurse in Whitehorse. It will also support the long-term prescribing of alternatives to opioids, such as suboxone.

"We want to do everything possible that we can, to try and relieve this crisis, this situation, which comes from mental health and addictions," said Yukon MP Larry Bagnell.

"It's a big issue right across the country."

Last week, about 100 people gathered in Whitehorse for a vigil to remember Yukoners who lost their lives to opioid overdoses. (Jackie McKay/CBC)

The federal money is from a $150-million Emergency Treatment Fund, announced as part of the 2018 budget. Yukon will get $500,000 and the Yukon government will chip in $445,000.

'Fentanyl is still out there'

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon's chief medical officer of health, says the new money will help the territory deliver its opioid response action plan.

He says opioid replacement treatment, for example with suboxone, can be effective at harm reduction.

"So people who are searching for the fix on the street, instead of that, they are offered a prescribed stable source of an opioid replacement that helps to get their lives stable, gets them back on track," Hanley said.

He says the Whitehorse hospital is seeing "fairly regular" visits from people experiencing overdoses. 

"The worrying thing is that we had zero deaths for the first half of 2018, and now have had a few in a row ... so we know that the fentanyl is still out there," Hanley said. 

Last week, Yukon's chief coroner Heather Jones said there had been 18 confirmed opioid-related deaths in Yukon since 2016. Hanley says there have also been a few recent deaths that could be linked to opioids, but are still under investigation.

With files from Philippe Morin and Sandi Coleman

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