NWT represented as health officials draft opioid crisis plan

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The territory’s health minister is in Ottawa for the next two days as part of a summit to develop an opioid crisis plan.

Glen Abernethy and health experts from across the country are working on a strategy to limit the number of opioid-related overdose deaths.

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Canada and the United States have the highest rates of opioid use in the world, and the federal government has said the root causes need to be examined.

Opioids include prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, fentanyl and morphine, as well as illegal street drugs like heroin.

NWT health minister Glen Abernethy.
NWT health minister Glen Abernethy.

In July, the territory’s health department revealed that 27 people had died as a result of an accidental overdose in the NWT between 2009 and 2014.

Of those deaths, four can be tied directly to the use of illicit fentanyl. While not included in the study, a fifth death occurred in 2015.

At the time, health officials said the study was prompted by a rise in fentanyl-related overdoses across the country (pdf).

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The issue even prompted the NWT’s chief public health officer, Dr. André Corriveau, to issue a public health advisory warning residents of the prevalence of illicit fentanyl on Yellowknife streets.

While Corriveau admits the issue is much worse in other parts of Canada, that doesn’t mean the NWT is immune to the dangers of illicit drugs.

“We’re not seeing the same sharp rise in fentanyl deaths that many other provinces have been experiencing,” he said at the time.

“[But] that doesn’t mean we’re immune or things couldn’t change quickly, so we have to improve our ability to monitor in more real time than we are now.”

Health ministers will hold talks for two days before the summit wraps up on Saturday.

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