Regina overdose prevention site gets green light to open

·3 min read
Nēwo Yōtina executive director Michael Parker announced on Friday that the centre is moving forward with its overdose prevention site.  (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)
Nēwo Yōtina executive director Michael Parker announced on Friday that the centre is moving forward with its overdose prevention site. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)

Michael Parker is relieved that a temporary overdose prevention site has been given approval to open up in Regina as the city grapples with a "startling increase" of drug related fatalities.

"We need to get started... it's been a lot of waiting," said Parker, the executive director of the Nēwo Yōtina Friendship Centre — which will house the site.

"We are hoping to start operating the overdose prevention site within hopefully about two weeks."

The temporary overdose prevention site will have a separate entrance leading into the space, which can accommodate two people — following physical distancing protocol — using drugs. There will be support workers and sterile supplies on site, as well as overdose prevention measures, like Naloxone, on the ready.

"It's overdoses that don't result in a fatality," Parker said. "Longer term, it means those folks whose lives have been saved are able to access a kind of the services that they need. You can't go to rehab if you're dead."

There were 103 people who are confirmed to have died from overdose in Regina last year according to Saskatchewan Coroners Service data. Regina police said they knew of at least 1,060 overdoses in the city.

Parker said they applied to the province in December, requesting to run an "urgent public health needs site."

They received approval to move forward this week. Six people are confirmed to have died in Regina so far this year from overdoses, but the numbers are likely much higher.

There's been 75 suspected fatal overdose deaths between Jan. 1 and Feb. 28, 2021. Suspected cases are still under investigation by the coroner.

Site meant to be a temporary fix

Parker said the centre seemed like a good fit to set up the site because it already offers housing and mental health supports to the community. It provides support in areas like education, workforce preparation, life skills, parenting and wellness.

The site will operate Monday through Friday 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. and it won't accommodate minors or first-time users.

"The purpose is not to encourage use," he said. "It's about safety and trying to reduce the harm and potential risk so that people can at some point access services."

He said the overdose prevention site is technically different from a federally approved supervised consumption site like the one operated in Saskatoon out of Prairie Harm Reduction. They require extensive consultation, he said, adding the Regina site is meant to be a temporary fixture in the midst of a crisis.

He said there could be conversations in the future about whether a permanent site is needed in Regina, and if the centre is the right location.

"Those things take time and we've already taken six months just to get to where we are now, so this is not meant to be a permanent solution. It's part of a spectrum of responses."

Parker said they were able to scrape together enough money to renovate the facility in preparation for opening and then open for a few months.

But he said it's not sustainable and they will be looking to the public and the province to keep running and potentially expand hours.

He said the provincial government needs to take leadership on handling the overdose and addictions crisis.