Regina overdose prevention site awaits funding decision

·3 min read
Nēwo Yōtina executive director Michael Parker is hoping Regina's only overdose prevention site will be able to extend its hours this year. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)
Nēwo Yōtina executive director Michael Parker is hoping Regina's only overdose prevention site will be able to extend its hours this year. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)

Regina's only overdose prevention site has been cleared to operate for another year, but advocates are urgently looking for more support from all levels of government.

The site, located at the Newo Yotina Friendship Centre, has served over 150 clients since it opened in mid-May. At that time, the Friendship Centre was only granted an exemption to the Controlled Substances Act, which allows people to use drugs at the overdose prevention site without fear of criminal charges, through the summer.

In July, the federal and provincial governments extended the exemption through September 2022.

Friendship Centre Executive Director Michael Parker says the government's decision to let the overdose prevention site keep operating shows a "quiet recognition of the issue," but he says that has not been backed up with substantive, sustainable material support.

"The analogy I like to use is that it's sort of like [the government] saying 'hey, I'd like you to feed a thousand people, so I'm going to give you a thousand hamburger patties'," said Parker. "But I'm not going to pay you. But you have to use qualified people to cook and serve the food, and you have to supply all the condiments and the venue.'

"That's how I feel the province is engaging with us. We're providing this service, and they're providing some of the materials and the permit to operate, but leaving us with the bill for everything else."

In July, the Friendship Centre applied to the City of Regina for funding to keep the site open and potentially extend its hours.

Parker expects to hear back from the City later this month. The Friendship Centre has also been fundraising locally and applied for federal funds.

Shylo Stevenson, communications officer for Regina Needle Recovery and Community Support, says extending hours at the overdose prevention site would save lives.

"Unlike the mentality of the government, addiction is 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," said Stevenson. "They can't expect the site to operate Monday to Friday, nine to five.

"It's just a huge gap in services and that's where we're seeing people falling through the cracks."

Stevenson said in the months since the overdose prevention city opened, Regina has become a noticeably safer place for drug users.

"A lot more people that we encounter on the street level are more comfortable with going there," he said. "We're not seeing as much of running into these individuals in alleys, hiding in yards, behind dumpsters and whatnot. It's more of a safe environment."

But Stevenson says people who want to get help for their addictions are still running up against the lack of services in the city.

"Last night we were dealing with a person on the street, and we just ended up having to leave him there because mobile [crisis services] did not have resources to help, and detox did not have the resources," he said "And it's a long weekend, so this person is having to wait until Tuesday at 9:00 a.m. So a lot of it is just hoping and praying this person can last that long."

And Stevenson says this is a typical story for drug users in Regina, especially outside of standard business hours.

"When people approach us and they need help, we have no place to take them," he said. "Even our detox centre is slowly turning into a homeless shelter. … It's not easy for a person with addiction to come forward and say 'okay, I'm ready. Let's do this.' And we just shut the door in their face."

Over 200 people in Saskatchewan are believed to have died of overdoses so far this year, according to the Saskatchewan Coroners Service.

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