Saskatchewan saw 283 people die of drug toxicity in 2020. If the 46 suspected but not confirmed deaths are added, that number jumps to 329.
The majority of 2020 deaths happened in Regina, according to the latest numbers from the Saskatchewan Coroners' Service.
This year, suspected and confirmed overdose deaths are at 178 combined. If that trend continues, this year is on track to surpass last year's deaths.
Marie Agioritis has had two sons struggle with substance use, one of whom died. She is the Saskatchewan lead for the harm reduction group Moms Stop the Harm.
Agioritis said when she read the numbers, she wasn't surprised.
She said there is resistance to harm reduction mentality in Saskatchewan, but that it's the only way forward. The problem is both in leadership and general attitudes, she said.
"Either [leadership] themselves don't understand enough about why we need to do it and what the end result can be academically, or they're choosing not to understand because it doesn't serve well for what their goal is ... their base believes," said Agioritis.
She recalled a recent meeting she had with a Saskatchewan politician.
"I said you have 80 per cent of the popular vote. What's a few per cent dropped off of there going to do to harm your success if you just try ... make an effort to change what the general public understands?"
An education campaign, similar to ones seen in the province on impaired driving, is needed, she said. Agioritis said she believes in saving lives for the sake of saving lives. But there are arguments like safer streets and reduced healthcare costs that can be made for harm reduction approaches to substance use.
"[People] will go, 'I don't really want to have my tax dollars spent on fixing people that should have known better,'" she said.
"Well there is something more in it for you. So let's focus on what's in it for them. That speaks to the people. What's their emotional and what's their tangible collateral?"