Opiate and Overdose Crisis in Saskatchewan

·3 min read

Over the past few years, the illegal use of drugs has increased as have the overdose deaths caused by them most particularly fentanyl, acetyl fentanyl and methamphetamine.

It has gotten bad enough that the Chief Coroners Service has issued a public warning for increased awareness.

The warning stated, “The Saskatchewan Coroners Service is urging increased awareness of the danger of illicit street drugs following four suspected drug-related deaths in Regina since February 14.

Preliminary toxicology in these deaths indicates high levels of Xylazine in combination with fentanyl, acetyl fentanyl and methamphetamine.”

“This is a fatal combination,” Chief Coroner Clive Weighill said. “Anyone who uses street drugs like these is at a much higher risk of overdose, especially when they are combining drugs like these together.”

Xylazine is typically used by veterinarians to sedate large animals. Its effects include central nervous system depression, blurred vision, disorientation, dizziness and drowsiness. When Xylazine and opioids are combined risks include respiratory depression causing slowed breathing and dangerously lowered blood pressure and heart rate.

Saskatchewan residents who are at risk of an opioid overdose or who might witness an opioid overdose - such as friends and family of people who use opioids - can receive a free Take Home Naloxone kit alongside training on how to use it. Visit www.saskatchewan.ca/opioids or call HealthLine 811 to find a Take Home Naloxone Program near you.

In an overdose situation, naloxone would not be effective against Xylazine, which is not an opioid, but it may reverse the effects of opioid(s) that are present along with Xylazine.

Naloxone typically reverses the effects of an opioid overdose temporarily, restoring breathing in a few minutes. Naloxone treatment does not replace the need to seek immediate medical attention. If you suspect an overdose call 911 immediately.

NDP Official Opposition Leader Ryan Meili held an in-person press conference on March 9th and stated, “The overdose crisis is spiralling out of control while Scott Moe and the Sask. Party ignore this public health emergency.”

He added, ``This is costing lives and leaving families and communities shattered.”

It is noted that Saskatchewan saw 377 overdose deaths in 2020, up by more than double the amount in 2019. There is real fear in the community that Saskatchewan’s overwhelmed crisis response system is at the breaking point.”

“Addiction takes a heavy toll on our communities and our families. It’s scary that there is a new batch out there that is even more deadly,” said Meili. “We need to take every step possible to get people the help they need and save lives, including harm reduction measures like overdose prevention sites. The alternative is more deaths on our streets, and that cannot be accepted.”

Official Opposition Critic for Mental Health and Addictions Doyle Vermette stated, “New Democrats have consistently called for an evidence-based strategy to tackle our opioid and crystal meth crisis. The Sask. Party government needs to stop ignoring what is happening in front of our eyes and make life-saving investments focused on awareness and harm reduction in our major centres, in the North, and in remote and rural communities.”

Specifically, Saskatchewan New Democrats are calling on the government to address the overdose crisis by:

Meili added, “As law enforcement leaders tell us, we will never police our way out of a public health emergency. As much as possible, we must act with compassion to reduce the harm being done on our streets and get people the help they need.”

Gary Horseman, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Four-Town Journal