Poeple who use illicit drugs may now smoke their substances at the supervised drug consumption site in Whitehorse, becoming one of the first facilities in Canada to allow inhalation indoors, the Yukon government announced Monday.
A new room with an upgraded ventilation system has been added to the facility, the only one in Yukon, which opened in 2021 to provide services such as drug testing and access to the overdose-reversing medication naloxone.
A statement from Bronte Renwick-Shields, executive director of Blood Ties Four Directions Centre, which supported the site’s expansion, said inhalation is one of the most common methods for people using drugs in Yukon and it’s important that the services provided reflect the community’s needs.
The site is a critical part of Yukon’s response to the substance use health emergency declared in January, Health Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said.
In January, Dr. Catherine Elliott, the acting chief medical officer of health, reported 23 deaths from toxic drugs in 2021, a 475 per cent increase from 2019.
Statistics released last year showed the territory had the highest per capita opioid overdose death rate in Canada at 48.4 per 100,000 people.
Annie Blake, the member of the legislature for Vuntut Gwitchin, welcomed the upgrades in Whitehorse, saying every death from drug poisoning is preventable and she’s looking forward to the expansion of harm reduction services in rural areas.
Yukon’s supervised consumption site does not supply drugs for people to use. Instead, it offers a safe place for people to consume their own drugs with trained health professionals on hand if necessary, the government said.
In British Columbia, Island Health said six of its supervised consumption sites allow smoking in settings that are protected from the weather.
Sites in Victoria, Cowichan, Port Alberni, Campbell River and Nanaimo have structures with heating and ventilation, a spokesman for the authority said.
When Island Health announced last October it was opening a temporary site in Victoria to allow people to inhale their drugs, it said data from the provincial coroners’ service showed that smoking had been the most common method for people consuming illicit drugs since 2017.
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