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Fatality in Carcross under investigation, could be 8th drug-related death in Yukon in January

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Residents hold a vigil on January 15, 2022, in Carcross to remember those lost to drugs. (Photo courtesy Lyndsay Amato)

The Yukon’s drug death toll continues to rise less than a month into the new year.

The Yukon’s Chief Coroner Heather Jones is investigating a death, suspected to be from illicit drugs, that occurred in Carcross over the weekend.

(This story was originally published on January 24, 2022, by CHON-FM in Whitehorse, Yukon. It is republished here with permission.)

The news comes less than two weeks after Carcross/Tagish First Nation declared a state of emergency after three people passed away.

The coroner has also confirmed that three fatalities that happened between January 15 and 19 were related to illicit drug use. Toxicology shows that fentanyl was present in all three cases and cocaine and benzodiazepines were found in two.

That means there have been a total of eight drug-related deaths this month in the Yukon – pending toxicology on one case.

Jones offered her sympathy in a statement that reads. “As Chief Coroner, and as a member of our Yukon community, I wish to express my sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who have died. The weight of grief before us is truly heartbreaking. I ask everyone to be compassionate as we mourn these tragic deaths and work together to create the change that is needed to alter our course."

Jones is also urging anyone who is using drugs or needs support with substance use to get help and not use alone.

The territory has seen a 475 percent increase in drug deaths from 2019 to 2021. Last year there were a record number of 23 drug-related fatalities. According to statistics released last November, the Yukon is leading the country in opioid deaths at a rate of 48.4 per 10,000 people. That’s more than double the national rate of 19.4.

Carcross/Tagish First Nation held a ceremonial fire at sunset on January 24, 2022, so the community could come together in prayer.

AFN Response

The Assembly of First Nations Yukon Region is responding to the substance use health emergency declared by the territory’s Minister of Health and Social Services Tracey-Anne McPhee last week.

After the announcement, Yukon First Nations Chiefs met with the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett to stress the immediate need for community-focused government support.

Regional Chief Kluane Adamek said in a statement, “it is going to take the efforts and support from everyone to address this crisis. We all have a role to play in coming together - from citizens and community leaders to all levels of government, regionally and nationally. As Northerners and as First Nations, one of the greatest strengths is our interconnectedness. No matter what we are facing, we are stronger together.”

A statement from Deputy Chief Alex Oakley of the Teslin Tlingit Council reads “This message cannot fall on deaf ears; addiction, mental health and wellness issues need to be dealt with immediately, and by every level of government. The lives we are losing are our children, friends, colleagues, parents, and grandparents. What matters right now is strong action and the mobilization of immediate resources from the governments directly to Yukon First Nations.

You can read the full response here.