The Canadian Mental Health Association Yukon (CMHA-YT) is deeply concerned with the worsening state of the opioid crisis in our territory.
Even though many substances are legal, regulated and socially acceptable, opioid use and addiction is stigmatized and opioid users are dehumanized. We know that people who use opioids may be in pursuit of relief from the pain of unwelcome thoughts, loneliness, uncertainty, negative experiences, unwelcome memories, acute or chronic physical pain. Some people become dependent on opioids after being prescribed painkillers as a medical intervention and others develop opioid dependence for many other reasons, some beyond their control.
Many of our economic and cultural pursuits as a society are oriented towards the human desire to escape mental and emotional distress, however, who in our society hasn’t sought the same relief, using different methods?
The illegal opioid supply has become more unsafe since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with an increasing number of people experiencing uncertainty, economic hardships, worsening mental health, unstable housing, and a host of other factors that can lead an individual to choose to use an opioid. Unlike other substances, opioid supplies are not regulated. While any individual can purchase alcohol and be sure of the ingredients and alcohol percentage, opioid users cannot have that certainty.
We urge the incoming leadership of the territory to consider a harm-reduction approach to addressing this crisis: harm reduction is supported by a vast amount of research as an effective and useful approach to addiction. We advocate for a safe supply, where people who use opioids can access a prescription opioid such as buprenorphineas, hydromorphone, or methadone as an alternative to potentially dangerous street drugs. Safe supply, combined with behavioral therapy treatment available to all of those who would access these services, would allow for the community supports and new and healthy patterns of behavior to be put in place in order for stability and new paths to be determined for those who use opioids, so they may not always need to do so.
There are many underlying factors that need to be addressed to combat the reasons that lead people to use opioids and we do not want to overlook the role played by poverty, family violence, intergenerational trauma, and lack of a stable community and the associated supports that come along with that stability. We would like to advocate for the incoming leadership of the territory to take these factors into consideration as well, and to allocate resources accordingly to help prevent future generations of Yukoners from being faced with the difficult choice to use opioids themselves.
The people we lose to opioid overdose death are our family, our friends, our colleagues, our neighbors and could be any one of us. We all deserve the supports needed to cope with tough times and the chance to regain the connection with our society that will allow for the transition to a life where opioid dependency is not a daily reality.
Please give us that chance.