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Drug-linked deaths on the rise: coroner
At least two fentanyl-related deaths in city since 2012

Shane Magee
Northern News Services
Wednesday, August 5, 2015

More than twice as many people died from drug-related causes in 2014 than 2011, police and the chief coroner are warning, but they won't say which specific drugs are to blame.

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

There were 11 deaths in 2014 compared to five in 2011. No data is available for 2015.

RCMP highlighted the figures provided to the force by NWT chief coroner Cathy Menard.

The news release issued July 28 states "a number" of deaths between 2011 and 2014 were caused by ingesting combinations of drugs and alcohol.

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

It doesn't specify which drugs were involved and both police and the coroner declined to delve into more detail.

The combination means it could be alcohol and fentanyl or any other combination of drugs, she said. Fentanyl was the only reference to a specific drug she made during the interview.

"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 spokesperson Const. Elenore Sturko stated in a news release.

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

"Street level drugs contain impurities and can be made up of combinations of illicit substances," the news release states.

"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."

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

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 case.

In April, RCMP announced a major drug bust that included the seizure of 593 counterfeit OxyContin 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.

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