Drug deaths are down in the Yukon, but advocates and experts say people must remain vigilant as toxic supply continues to kill across Canada.
Yukon is reporting no substance-related deaths in the territory in June or July, despite having the highest per-capita overdose death rate in Canada earlier this year.
Although the territory has seen a downturn in drug-related deaths, experts and harm-reduction workers warn the territory is not out of the woods.
“I am not convinced that our data tells the whole story,” wrote Heather Jones,Yukon’s chief coroner, in an email to CBC News.
The coroner’s wariness is shared by staff at Blood Ties Four Directions Centre, which houses the territory’s only supervised consumption site (SCS).
The centre’s executive director, Bronte Renwick-Shields, said the death count does not account for the overdoses treated and reversed and the decrease in deaths has not been accompanied by a lull in drug use or overdoses.
“We continue to experience an overdose crisis in the territory,” Renwick-Shields said.
“We know that overdoses that have been responded to at our site could have been fatalities in the community had they not been at the SCS.”
The Yukon government declared a substance use health emergency in January of last year in response to illicit drugs devastating the territory.
Twelve people in the Yukon have died of substances since January of this year, according to data provided by the Chief Coroner. Eight of those deaths occurred within a three-week period in April.
All but one of the deaths involved cocaine. Nine involved opioids, including eight that involved fentanyl.
Lane Tredger, MLA for Whitehorse Centre, said several factors could contribute to the abating death rate, including the increased use of the SCS and a potential change in drug supply and the community should not let down its defences.
“It doesn’t mean we can let up our efforts. I think it’s normal to see these variations,” Tredger said.
“I’m so glad we haven’t heard of any deaths in the last two months, but I don’t think that’s evidence things are getting better. I think we need a longer time frame to draw that conclusion.”
Overdoses and drug-related deaths continue to plague other regions of the country. According to data released this month, 182 people in Alberta died from toxic drugs in April, marking the province’s deadliest month for overdoses. In May, 151 people in the province died from drug poisoning.
In B.C., 184 people died due to toxic drugs in June. The Yukon’s drug trends tend to closely follow B.C.’s, said Renwick-Shields, who urges Yukoners to stay vigilant.
“We still want people to be taking precautions, getting their drugs checked, carrying Naloxone, and taking care of each other,” she said.
“I think not seeing those trends is because we’re taking care of each other and looking out for each other.”
The Yukon Government did not provide the CBC with data on the number of overdoses responded to in June and July by deadline for the publication of this article.