Overdose deaths in Sask. could match or exceed 2021's tragic total, coroner's report suggests

·3 min read
In Saskatchewan, there were potentially 424 confirmed or suspected fatal overdoses in 2021. A coroner's report suggests this year's total might be greater. (Rafferty Baker/CBC - image credit)
In Saskatchewan, there were potentially 424 confirmed or suspected fatal overdoses in 2021. A coroner's report suggests this year's total might be greater. (Rafferty Baker/CBC - image credit)

Saskatchewan is on track to equal or exceed the number of overdose deaths that occurred last year, a provincial coroner's report suggests.

As of July 4, there have been 47 confirmed fatal overdoses and 204 suspected. The total of 251 is more than half of last year's total number of confirmed and suspected deaths.

In all of 2021, the report shows, there were 376 confirmed overdose deaths and 49 suspected for a total of 424.

Kayla DeMong, executive director for Prairie Harm Reduction (PHR) in Saskatoon, which is home to the province's only safe consumption site, believes the figures put the province on track for more overdose deaths.

"It just shows further evidence that we still do not have an effective response to support people that use substances in our community," DeMong said.

She says a provincial strategy that specifically targets substance-use disorders and the current overdose crisis is badly needed.

"We need plans that involve a whole spectrum of services, right from safe consumption sites and safe supply for people who are still actively using," she said.

"We need the proper pathways so that when people are ready to get into recovery, or if they get ready to go into recovery, that they can access treatment programs and counselling and mental-health resources in a timely manner."

DeMong says the number of visits to the safe consumption site has increased every month since it opened in 2020, and this summer has been no different.

The consumption site is currently open Monday to Wednesday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and Thursday, Friday's from 2 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

DeMong says PHR is working on getting additional staff on site, including nurses, to offer supplementary support.

"We're seeing those increases and seeing that increased demand for support without the opportunity to expand our hours at this time," she said.

Calls are trending downwards, police say

Regina police Chief Evan Bray said calls for overdoses are "down significantly" in the city.

"This time last year we're at roughly 750 occurrences by mid-year," he said, adding it ended the year with more than 1,800. "This year, up to mid-year, we're at 129."

Bray acknowledged these calls are only what are reported to emergency services, and the actual number "is significantly higher."

"I never want to diminish the fact that that's still a problem," he said. "One hundred twenty-nine overdoses in our community is a problem and there's lots of work to do there, but it is nice to see that it is trending significantly lower than last year."

Bray believes the decrease is due to the work done by the province and harm reduction groups that are focused on getting people into treatment, when and if they are willing. Increased education around safer drug use has also contributed to the decrease, Bray says.

"There's a whole lot of efforts that happen to try and reduce the ill effects that illegal substances and people with substance-use disorder are experiencing in the city," he said.

Last year, 160 people in Regina died from an overdose. At mid-year 2022, that number is 64.

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