Opioid addiction is being deemed a national crisis and the Northwest Territories is by no means immune from it.

In fact, considering how dangerous drugs, such as fentanyl, can be easily mailed undetected to remote communities who have little experience with these types of substances, the North, which already leads addictions rates, is particularly vulnerable.

Federal statistics show five people in the NWT died from opiate overdoses in 2016, followed by one one in 2017 and another in 2018. Canada Health reports more than 9,000 people in Canada have died from overdoses over the same period.

The federal department states “fentanyl and other fentanyl-related substances continue to be a major driver of this crisis.”

Health and Social Services Minister Glen Abernethy said deaths are down in the territory, in part, because of the GNWT’s public education campaign on opioid awareness.

The GNWT announced $760,000 in funding last week — $500,000 of that from Ottawa – to improve treatment programs for remote communities and incarcerated inmates. Abernethy said the money will also improve access to the resources available in Yellowknife.

The government will assess which communities need the programming – an important step in understanding the extent of how opioids are affecting the territory.

“We know that the NWT substance abuse rates are higher than other jurisdictions. We know that substance abuse is often one part of multiple challenges that our residents are facing, including past trauma. The federal funding today is helping us on that path,” the minister said.

We couldn’t agree more. While Abernethy points to successes with the government’s public information campaign, the NWT remains a sitting duck as the opioid crisis spreads across Canada. It is simply too easy to get a hold of these drugs.

The territorial government and City of Yellowknife have taken important steps in recent years in helping people suffering from addictions, including the establishment of a day shelter and sobering centre, but the focus with these programs is mainly on alcohol addiction.

The territory needs to be prepared for a potential epidemic in opioid abuse. Yellowknife experienced a major scare in 2016 when the emergency room at Stanton Territorial Hospital was flooded with eight fentanyl overdoses over a 48-hour period.

The simple reality is that opioids are very tempting drugs for people who are prone to substance abuse, and it’s impossible to know what drugs people are actually taking when they are being purchased on the street and not prescribed by a doctor.

Having treatment plans in place is key to preparation here in the Northwest Territories.

Good work is being done. Let’s keep pushing for proactive measures to ensure there are less hoops for people to go through to get the help they need.

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