Julie Green: Drug Poisoning Deaths in Hay River

Ministers' Statements and Speeches

Yellowknife — February 7, 2023

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Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the devastating impact that the drug poisoning crisis has had on the community in Hay River. The Coroner has confirmed that there were six deaths related to drug poisoning in 2022. Many families are struggling to understand and cope with the emotional toll of these deaths.

 Public health officials have noted that these deaths are drug poisonings rather than overdoses.  The difference is that with a drug overdose someone takes too much of something they know they are taking, but with a drug poisoning, the drug user is not aware their supply is contaminated with opioids. Because of this, we are now calling deaths shown to be related to fentanyl and carfentanyl “drug poisoning” to emphasize the added danger to all people who use illicit drugs.  We need to help people understand that if they are taking drugs they must take precautions.

In Hay River all individuals who died from drug poisoning were alone. None of them had naloxone, a nasal spray which reverses the effects of opioids and none of them were aware their drug supply was contaminated with fentanyl or carfentanyl.  Anyone can be at risk of drug poisoning, including people who are using illicit drugs for the first time, people who use drugs recreationally, and people who are frequent or daily users. 

Mr. Speaker, the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority has been collaborating with community partners on initiatives to prevent poisonings; to help drug users recover and their loved ones to cope with the stress of having a family member who is addicted. 

To date, the Authority has distributed educational posters about naloxone around the community. They have been offering the Matrix program to help people recover from addictions, and the Hope for Families workshops. They have created a team of a clinician and a mental health professional to provide outreach services over the next three months; and, is ready to support the town’s new social issues committee and the Elders group.

In December 2022, a group of health care professionals assembled to help respond to this situation.  Last month, the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority, the Chief Public Health Officer, and the NWT Chief Coroner held a press conference in Hay River to raise awareness about the drug poisoning deaths and the presence of fentanyl and carfentanyl in the community. The Chief Public Health Officer and her staff also met with community members and service providers to hear their concerns about resource gaps and to identify supports to address the concerns arising from drug use.

Mr. Speaker, the Health and Social Services system wants to collaborate with the community to enhance supports and prevent further harms related to drug use. While this situation has reached a crisis point in Hay River, we understand there are many residents who are concerned with a rise in the use of illicit drugs in their communities.  We intend to apply the lessons learned in Hay River to address these concerns with them. 

Mr. Speaker, deaths due to drug poisoning are entirely preventable. My thoughts are with everyone who has lost someone close to them due to contamination in the illicit drug supply in Hay River.

All residents can support a safer community by learning to recognize the signs of drug poisoning, carrying and knowing how to use naloxone, not mixing drugs, and if using, go “low and slow”, and never use alone.  It is important to know that you are protected from drug possession charges under the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act if you call 9-1-1 for help and please do call. You may save a life. I ask everyone in the Northwest Territories to help prevent further drug poisoning deaths by treating one another with compassion and understanding as we address this complex issue together.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.