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Drug-linked deaths climbing: Coroner
At least two fentanyl-related deaths in city since 2012

Shane Magee
Northern News Services
Saturday, August 1, 2015

Police and the chief coroner are pointing to the doubling of deaths linked to combining drug and alcohol use in the territory the past four years.

NNSL photo/graphic

Cathy Menard: Chief coroner of the NWT is issuing a warning along with RCMP about deaths related to drug use. - NNSL file photo

The press release issued July 28 states "a number" of the deaths were caused by ingesting combinations of drugs and alcohol. It doesn't specify the number or which drugs were involved.

RCMP highlighted the figures provided to the force by NWT chief coroner Cathy Menard. There were 11 deaths in 2014 compared to five in 2011. No data was available for 2015.

"Although alcohol continues to be a concern in the NWT, in our investigations we are seeing a rise in combined toxicity deaths," Menard said.

The combination means it could be alcohol and fentanyl or any other combination of drugs, she said.

"The RCMP and the coroner are concerned for those who participate in the activity of using street level drugs, and are warning them of this danger," RCMP spokeswoman Const. Elenore Sturko stated.

Some of those who died had a long-term history of alcohol and drug use, she said. There have also been cases where the person was a first-time user.

"There's no quality control on street drugs," Menard said. "A person may think they know what they are buying, but there is no guarantee that that is what they are getting."

The only reference to a specific drug she made during an interview was to fentanyl.

In February, NWT chief public health officer Andre Corriveau warned the public about the dangers of fentanyl, also called "greenies."

There have been a growing number of overdose deaths in B.C. and Alberta linked to the drug, which is a narcotic used in hospitals to combat chronic pain.

Also in February, Menard said there have been three fentanyl-related overdose deaths in the territory since 2012, two in Yellowknife. Two of those deaths were the result of combining fentanyl with other drugs and the third was a fentanyl-only.

In April, RCMP announced a major drug bust that included the seizure of 593 counterfeit OxContin pills, which lab tests confirmed as fentanyl.

Lydia Bardak, executive director of the Yellowknife John Howard Society, said that beyond public warnings, likely the only way to help avoid future deaths is for parents to teach their children how to be safe.

"Tough love isn't going to work for the kids ... trying these drugs," she said. "It's how to embrace your children to keep them safe because kids are going to experiment."

It's only been the past year or so she's been hearing of fentanyl in the city.

"Alcohol is still a horrible thing, but now we have these new horrible things coming up," she said, referring to drugs.

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