Fentanyl is scary stuff. Any drug that can kill you with a single pill or make you sick simply by being in the same room with it is a cause for concern.

This dangerous drug has been the focus of much scrutiny in recent years as news headlines highlighted a number of alarming stories, including news of eight fentanyl overdoses in Yellowknife during a single 48-hour period in November 2016.

As such, it was fitting that opioids – synthetic drugs, such as fentanyl that mimic opiates such as heroin – were the focus of this year’s Addictions Week awareness campaign put on by the Department of Health and Social Services. The campaign included poster warnings placed in bars and around communities and informational videos on social media and in movie theatres.

Health Canada says there were more than 2,800 opioid-related deaths across the country in 2016 and estimates there will be 3,000 by the end of this year. Five of those deaths so far have been in the NWT.

It’s a good thing the territory is talking about opioids and educating emergency personal on how to deal with them.

But let’s not forget that while the statistics on opioids might be alarming, alcohol remains the primary addictions issue in the Northwest Territories.

Figures from the NWT Bureau of Statistics show alcohol is by far the most widely consumed intoxicant in the North. A survey on alcohol use from 2014 shows 17 per cent of respondents consumed five or more drinks at a time two or three times a month. And while the NWT Coroner Service doesn’t differentiate between alcohol and other drugs in its annual reports, the implication is clear: alcohol remains a major factor in many types of deaths. The 2015 report states 16 of 20 accidental deaths that year were alcohol and/or drug-related.

Sara Chorostkowski, manager of mental health and addictions for the health department, told News/North that while there are few metrics today to determine the state of addictions for particular substances, the department can look at what people admit themselves for when they enter treatment. That reporting shows alcohol and cannabis at top the list, with crack and cocaine coming in next.

So it’s certainly a good thing to make sure people know about the dangers of opioids. The United States is currently battling with an opioid epidemic, thanks in no small part to over-prescription of pain medications that pushed people into addiction, and in many cases street drugs once doctors cut them off. But alcohol is still the primary scourge of the territory and the addiction in most need of treatment.

The territorial government has taken some positive steps to deal with this affliction, including the establishment of a sobering centre in Yellowknife. The centre offers a safe and warm place for people to sleep it off, and caters to many people from the communities who find themselves in the capital in need of help.

But the NWT remains without an addictions treatment centre since the closure of the Nats’ejee K’eh facility on the Hay River Reserve in 2013. The lack of treatment centre in the territory means residents must head south for treatment away from family and community supports.

Earlier this year NWT Supreme Court judge Louise Charbonneau called on the territorial government to re-establish a territorial treatment centre after sentencing Stanley Abel Jr. to five years in prison for the beating death of his uncle at a house party in Dettah in 2016. Abel told the court he doesn’t remember a thing about the tragic incident after a night of binge drinking.

Courts also this year sentenced a 21-year-old man to life in prison for the murder of Fort Gord Hope’s Charlotte Lafferty, killed in an alcohol-fueled rage. Her killer, Keenan McNeely was 17 at the time.

The territory needs help, not just with opioids, a crisis recent to memory. Alcohol has been with us much longer and will continue to cause untold misery in the absence of better programs and facilities.

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