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Opioid-related deaths on the rise
Five in the NWT last year linked to pill use

Emelie Peacock
Northern News Services
Friday, June 9, 2017

Deaths involving opioids are highest in Western Canada and the NWT's chief coroner said these deaths are on the rise in the territory.

According to a report released Tuesday by a national advisory committee on the opioid epidemic, deaths across Western Canada, including the NWT, were the highest in the country in 2016.

NWT chief coroner Cathy Menard said the territory is experiencing an increase in deaths where opioids were a factor, yet cautions the numbers in National Report: Apparent Opioid-Related Deaths look higher than they are due to the NWT's small population.

There were 2,458 apparent opioid-related deaths across Canada last year, bringing the death rate to 8.8 per 100,000 population. The NWT saw 10 to 14.9 deaths per 100,000 people in 2016.

Menard said the NWT had five opioid-related deaths in 2016, one of which involved fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic opioid 100 times more potent than heroin. The five deaths include three accidental deaths and two pending investigation.

"It could be a combination of opioids and alcohol, it could be a combination of opioids and cocaine ... could be just a straight opioid of one other kind," said Menard.

Menard said there were four deaths in 2012, one in 2013, three in 2014 and five in 2015 and 2016.

"We are seeing an increase in opioid deaths," she said, adding one death can significantly alter the statistics for the territory.

"These drugs are also in our own communities. It's not just the rest of Canada, these drugs are in our own communities."

Menard's messages to residents of the NWT is that the opioid epidemic is a concern for all of the NWT and no drug is safe.

"I know I say it a lot but I think I have to keep saying that - it is a concern for us, not just for the rest of Canada," she said.

Sgt. Dean Riou with the RCMP's G Division Federal Investigations Unit stated in an e-mail that anecdotally speaking, he has seen a decrease in the availability of fentanyl across the territory.

He credits a combination of enforcement, public awareness campaigns and media coverage of the fentanyl crisis.

Riou stated all fentanyl seized by the RCMP has been in the form of counterfeit Oxy 80 pills, except for one seizure of furanyl fentanyl last year. He has heard, but has yet to confirm, the presence of fentanyl in counterfeit Xanax pills.

Staff Sgt. Pierre Blais with the Edmonton ALERT (Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team) said urban centres like Edmonton are seeing an increase in fentanyl in powdered form sold as heroin.

Riou stated heroin is rare in the NWT and of the few heroin seizures, no fentanyl has been detected.

Fentanyl is mostly being trafficked from Vancouver or Alberta to the NWT, Riou stated, with the exception of an incident in November 2016 where eight people overdosed within a 48-hour period.

Riou stated this incident involved furanyl fentanyl imported directly from China.

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