Opioid task force meets for the first time following overdoses

Dr. André Corriveau, the territory's chief public health officer. Submitted photo
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A task force developed to examine the issues surrounding opioid abuse and overdose risks in the Northwest Territories had their first meeting last Wednesday.

The group was formed following an unusually high number of near-fatal fentanyl overdoses seen at Yellowknife’s Stanton Hospital in November.

Related: GNWT to roll out opioid overdose prevention kits Wednesday

Related: NWT represented as health officials draft opioid crisis plan

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“It’s a very complex kind of an issue, so we need to look at it from a more comprehensive perspective,” said the territory’s chief public health officer Dr. André Corriveau.

Corriveau is head of the task force, which plans to meet once a month. He says that we need to have dedicated people focused on examining all areas concerning opioid abuse and overdose risks.

“Just a few people within the department of Health and Social Services (looking at this) are not going to be able to deal with all the issues,” Corriveau explained.

“That’s why we needed to have a multi-disciplinary group that looks at all aspects, from enforcement, to prevention, to access, to treatment, to harm-reduction, and then access to addictions treatment.”

The task force is made up of members from the authority, department of Health and Social Services, other senior health officials and the coroner’s office.

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Along with the task force, the group has also created a couple of working groups; one to specifically look at the life-saving drug naloxone, which temporarily reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, and another group that’s working on developing a public information campaign warning against to dangers of buying street drugs and narcotics.

Corriveau says the campaign is expected to be developed soon, and hopes to run it later in the winter.

The task force plans to develop more groups related to collecting data surrounding overdoses in the territory after Christmas.

Monitor how narcotics are prescribed

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Along with creating working groups, the task force is also examining the prescribing practices of physicians, Corriveau told Moose FM.

The group plans to look at how they can monitor and improve the way narcotics are currently prescribed to patients.

“One of the roots that people can become addicted is they’re started on narcotics and not monitored properly, then people can become addicted through initially a prescription,” Corriveau explained.

“Alcohol is still probably the primary form of serious addition in the North, but we’re not immune. We know that (opioid abuse) is around, and that people are vulnerable to this problem and it’s been increasing.”

Related: Woman found guilty of impaired driving had fentanyl in system

To help with the increased risk of overdoses in the territory, the GNWT will be providing free take-home kits containing naloxone to all health centres, pharmacies and clinics throughout the NWT.

Those kits will be available as of Wednesday.

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