Sask. on pace for new record for drug overdose deaths in a year

·2 min read

Saskatchewan appears to be on pace for a new record for drug overdose deaths.

The Saskatchewan Coroners Service says that ass of Dec. 1, 323 people have died or are suspected to have died from overdoses since Jan. 1. Of those, 122 are confirmed to be deaths by overdose and 201 are presumed to be, but are still under investigation.

The previous record is 171 overdose deaths in 2018.

Regina Police Chief Evan Bray told CBC Radio's Blue Sky the provincial drug epidemic has been magnified in that city.

He said there needs to be immediate action and a long-term plan — which may include harm reduction strategies — because police can't arrest their way out of a drug epidemic.

Many advocates and addictions experts have been calling for a supervised consumption site for years. Bray said having health-care workers around when people are consuming drugs could be helpful.

"I know a [supervised consumption site] is a discussion that is happening in Regina and I think harm reduction is part of the overall fix for sure," he said.

Saskatoon is the only place in the province that currently has a supervised consumption site, but the site does not receive government funding.

Advocates and former addicts in Saskatoon told CBC News in September they believe there are a few other reasons for the higher overdose numbers, like increased use of fentanyl and other opioids, and fewer support groups due to the pandemic.

New treatment centre, more detox beds

The province said it's taking action to address opioid-related overdoses and deaths.

The budget announced in June includes about $1.55 million to establish a new crystal meth treatment facility in Estevan.

The province is also spending more than $1.7 million to fund 28 new detox beds in Regina, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, Prince Albert and North Battleford.

More than $800,000 is going toward hiring addiction workers in Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert.

The province has also implemented programs aimed at helping people with addictions — like Take Home Naloxone, which has already distributed more than 5,400 kits so far the year, the statement said — along with a rapid access addictions medicine program, mental health and addiction services and HealthLine 811.