Regina organization applying to open safe consumption site after record 1,060 overdoses so far in 2020

·3 min read

The Nēwo Yōtina Friendship Centre is applying to open a safe consumption site in Regina in January 2021.

The centre offers support to Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the areas of education, workforce preparation, life skills, parenting and wellness.

The centre is applying to the provincial government for an exemption to operate an "urgent public health needs site" after a record number of deaths and overdoses in Regina this year.

Regina police say they are aware of 1,060 overdoses and 106 apparent overdose deaths so far in 2020, as of Dec. 16. In 2019, police reported a total of 82 overdoses for the entire year and 21 deaths.

"There has been a tremendous loss of life through overdoses this year in Regina and urgent action is needed and we're taking that action," Nēwo Yōtina executive director Michael Parker said.

"Ultimately, this is about saving lives, and you can't seek treatment if you're dead."

Bryce Hoye/CBC
Bryce Hoye/CBC

Parker said he's hopeful the province will respond quickly to match the urgency of the situation. He said he filed the paperwork Friday, along with letters of support from Mayor Sandra Masters' office, the Heritage Community Association and the Regina Police Service.

"With the pandemic going on, there's a lot of pressure on the Health Authority and the Ministry of Health right now. But we're not asking for much, right? We're asking for their approval and their involvement down the road," Parker said.

The centre is calling the site an "overdose prevention site," which would include supervised injection of drugs. Parker said it is ready to operate in early January, pending provincial permission. He said it has the resources to operate for three months.

Germain Wilson/CBC
Germain Wilson/CBC

The entrance would be separate than the regular main door, Parker said. People would use their substances then wait to make sure they had no adverse reactions. While waiting they would have access to the centre's services, Parker said.

"This is just a practical response to kind of the current situation," Parker said. "In a perfect world, we wouldn't need an overdose prevention site, but that's not the world we live in."

If approved, it would be the second safe consumption site in the province. Prairie Harm Reduction opened one in Saskatoon in fall 2020. Parker said the team at Prairie Harm Reduction has been a great support in sharing information and policies, and is going to support them in training staff.

"If they hadn't broke ground in the province, I don't think we would have necessarily even considered this as an option," Parker said. "We really are grateful for the work that they've done."

Parker said it's important for anyone concerned about the location, or not wanting it in their neighbourhood, to remember that drug use is happening everywhere.

"It is already happening in people's backyards and in their back alleys or in their neighbor's house," he said. "That's the reality. So this is just what's practical."

Long-term, Parker said he would like to see provincial investments in mental health and well-being at a very young age to prevent people from needing to turn to substances as tnhey get older.

The Nēwo Yōtina Friendship Centre is located at 1635 11th Avenue in Regina.