Saskatchewan may see even more deaths from drug overdoses this year than in 2021, a new report suggests — an alarming trend one organization says points to the urgent need for services to help people using substances.
As of Aug. 31 this year, there have already been a total of 302 deaths linked to overdoses — 92 confirmed drug toxicity deaths and 210 suspected fatal overdoses — according to a report from the Saskatchewan Coroners Service.
That compares with a total of 409 confirmed or suspected overdose deaths in all of 2021 — a number that itself was more than double what the province saw two years earlier.
The executive director for Prairie Harm Reduction in Saskatoon is not surprised by the most recent numbers.
"We've seen this trend forming over the last eight-and-a-half months and … we started predicting this outcome early in the spring," said Kayla DeMong, whose organization operates Saskatchewan's first supervised consumption site.
"Until we do something different, we're not going to see anything different."
Earlier this summer the Saskatchewan Coroners Service reported a total of 251 confirmed and suspected fatal overdoses in 2022 up to July 4 — indicating an increase of 51 deaths within the two months of July and August.
While investigations into suspected overdose deaths continue, DeMong says her organization continues to advocate for funding for safe consumption sites in Saskatchewan.
"The province has … continued to invest heavily in treatment, but not properly providing support to organizations working with people while they're using substances still," she said.
"Until we start to properly support people that are using substances while they're using, we will continue to see an increase in overdose deaths in our province."
Earlier this year, the province said it had put $470 million toward mental health and addictions services for 2022 and 2023, including $67 million toward harm reduction, prevention, detox and treatment initiatives.
In March, Prairie Harm Reduction was left out of the province's 2022-23 budget.
According to its statistical report, Prairie Harm Reduction counted 3,680 visits to its supervised consumption service in 2021.
So far there have been no fatal overdoses at the facility, DeMong says.
However, she added, "we have seen kind of month over month from when we opened pretty steady increases to access and services."
Most confirmed fatal overdoses in Regina
According to the report from coroners service, Regina remains the place in Saskatchewan with the most confirmed drug toxicity deaths in 2022.
As of the end of August, 30 people in the city have died this year of a drug overdose, compared with 22 in Saskatoon and seven in Lloydminster.
Last year, the Saskatchewan Coroners Service reported 191 confirmed drug toxicity deaths in Regina and 112 in Saskatoon.
The Nēwo Yōtina Friendship Centre opened its overdose prevention site in Regina last year.
However, options for rural communities — such as mobile sites — are currently lacking, DeMong says.
"The other huge gap that continues to contribute to this in our province is that the population of people who are using substances are predominantly [the] homeless population or precariously housed population," she said, "and we just don't have targeted services for them."