Saskatchewan doctors call on province to fund safe consumption sites

·2 min read
 Jason Mercredi is executive director of Prairie Harm Reduction, Saskatchewan's only permanent safe consumption site.  (Kendall Latimer/CBC - image credit)
Jason Mercredi is executive director of Prairie Harm Reduction, Saskatchewan's only permanent safe consumption site. (Kendall Latimer/CBC - image credit)

Saskatchewan's doctors are calling on the provincial government to do more to prevent overdose deaths.

The Saskatchewan Medical Association's (SMA's) representative assembly has passed a resolution calling for provincial funding for 24-hour-a-day safe consumption sites.

Doctors also passed a resolution last year for funding on an urgent basis.

Dr. Carla Holinaty, a Saskatoon family physician, presented the motion.

She says doctors have an obligation to advocate for drug users.

"I think there's a lot of tendency to look at people who use drugs and sort of blame them for the outcomes that happen," she said. "That's really not a productive way to deal with this. People who use drugs don't deserve to die, because they use drugs. Full stop."

Submitted by Carla Holinaty
Submitted by Carla Holinaty

The Saskatchewan Coroner Service recorded 43 confirmed accidental drug toxicity deaths and 125 suspected drug toxicity deaths between Jan. 1 and June 2 of this year.

There have been 648 drug overdoses in Regina alone from January to May, according to the Regina Police Service. Those resulted in 58 deaths.

Last year, the coroners service estimated that 345 people in Saskatchewan died of drug overdoses, the most of any year that decade.

Holinaty said safe consumption sites are crucial to decreasing these numbers.

The 2021-22 provincial budget set aside $458 million for mental health and addictions programs and services, including $850,000 for 12 additional provincial addiction treatment beds.

However, Holinaty said detox and recovery programs aren't enough.

"We know that a lot of people in sort of their journeys with addiction and substance use aren't necessarily at a point where they're ready to consider entry into a rehab program or a treatment facility," she said. "And that's OK. People need to be ready for those things to be successful. But there still needs to be something in place that helps keep those people alive in the meantime."

$1,000 fundraising challenge

Saskatoon's Prairie Harm Reduction, Saskatchewan's only permanent safe consumption site, can't afford to operate 24 hours a day.

Just this week, it was able to expand its hours to 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m CST on weekdays. Before that, it could only operate until 4 p.m. CST.

But it's still closed on weekends.

Jason Mercredi, executive director of the site, asked the provincial government for about $1.3 million to be able to expand to 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but was refused funding in the last two budgets.

Saskatoon Community Clinic physicians are challenging other doctors to donate $1,000 – or other amounts – to the site.

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