Since April 1, 156 NWT residents have attended drug treatment programs—22 of which were for opiates.

Health Canada says there were more than 2,800 opioid-related deaths in 2016—five of which were in the NWT. Preliminary data shows there will be more than 3,000 by the end of 2017. This year’s Addictions Week awareness campaign focused on opioids, coinciding with the rise of fentanyl in the territory. NNSL file photo

This is up from last fiscal year, which saw a total of 121 people attending treatment through the GNWT between April 1, 2016 and the end of March, 2017, said Sara Chorostkowski, manager of mental health and addictions for the territorial health department.

“[That] was a bit lower than the previous years so now we’re seeing it come back up,” said Chorostkowski.

Last week, the department conducted its Addictions Week awareness campaign with a focus on opioids, coinciding with the rise of fentanyl in the city and across the country. There are posters in bars and around communities, and videos on social media and at movie theatres.

While it is difficult to track the effectiveness of campaigns like Addictions Week, Chorostkowski says there are definite signs that posters about the NWT help line to assist in bringing people’s attention to that option.

“When we do targeted messaging—we’ve done some pretty targeted promotion of the helpline—we do notice that when we do that, the numbers of calls do go up,” said Chorostkowski.

Between January and October of this year, there were 461 calls placed to the helpline from NWT residents. The topics of these calls—pairing a resident with a trained counsellor on the other end—range from addictions to depression and suicidal thoughts to relationship troubles.

Health Canada says there were more than 2,800 opioid-related deaths in 2016—five of which were in the NWT—and preliminary data shows there will be more than 3,000 by the end of 2017. Between 2009 and 2014 there were 27 accidental deaths due to narcotics in the NWT, according to a GNWT report. In toxicology screens after those deaths, four showed fentanyl. Eight showed alcohol.

On Wednesday, federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor announced the government would be starting a pilot project to offer safer alternatives to street drugs, such as hydromorphone, as well as authorizing supervised consumption sites, supporting harm reduction pilot projects, and working with territories and provinces to establish temporary overdose prevention sites if there is urgent public need.

Chorostkowski says the health department will initiate a territory-wide survey on addictions this winter, which it conducts every three years.

Until then, the health department has few metrics it can rely on to show the state of addictions today, other than for what addictions people admit themselves to treatment.

For those cases, Chorostkowski says, “alcohol and cannabis are the top ones and then also crack and cocaine would be the third.”

In late November 2016, a string of near-fatal opioid overdoses observed at Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife in a 24-hour period prompted a swift response from the government. Starting in December, the GNWT began distributing naloxone kits to pharmacies, health clinics, hospitals and health cabins around the territory.

Naloxone is a medication that can be injected, or sprayed into the nose, which blocks the effects of opioids. In an overdose situation, it can get someone breathing again.

Chorostkowski said that, to the best knowledge of the department, the distributed kits haven’t been used yet, but they now include questionnaires within the kits to better track the usage.

RCMP did not reply by press time to a request for comment on the prevalence of fentanyl in the NWT.

Where to go for addictions help

There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but some first steps someone can take are:

  • Call the NWT helpline at 1-800-661-0844
  • Talk to a community counsellor
  • Talk to a local elder
  • Talk to the community nurse/physician

Counselling programs and health centres can be referral points for facility-based treatment, which is held out of territory but can be coordinated through the territorial health department. Alternately, communities offer local culture- and land-based programming that might better fit an individual’s needs.

Leave a comment

Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.