Leaders from 35 Saskatoon organizations are calling for new approaches to address what they call “the rising drug-related health and safety crisis” in the city.
The Safe Community Action Alliance (SCAA) has issued four recommendations, including implementing a drug court in Saskatoon that diverts people out of the criminal justice system and into the health system.
Regina and Moose Jaw currently have drug treatment courts. In a statement, the Saskatchewan government said the initiatives require “significant community investment.” The Ministry of Justice also provides staff to carry them out.
Saskatoon police Chief Troy Cooper wants to see data on drug court’s effectiveness but appeared open to the idea.
“In certain cases, treatment instead of incarceration is appropriate,” Cooper said.
Shirley Isbister, president of the Central Urban Métis Federation (CUMFI), also welcomed the SCAA’s recommendation of a 24/7 drop-in centre for youth.
“It sounds so easy, but that’s not an easy process” because of the staffing requirements and other costs, she said.
In the last year to 18 months, she’s noticed an increase in people high on drugs at the CUMFI office at Avenue M and 19th Street. Last week, one person became irate and started throwing hangers at staff.
“We need safety in the core area of Saskatoon,” she said.
Statistics from emergency personnel show an increase in opioid and crystal meth use. From 2017 to 2019, the Saskatoon’s use of naloxone and airway management techniques has tripled. Saskatoon police have seen a seven per cent rise in mental health calls.
The SCAA also called for treatment options specifically tailored to crystal meth and fentanyl use. It is also seeking more coordination for outreach services.
Though some services would fall under the purview of Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Health and Justice Ministry, Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark said they are also targeted at the community.
“What I’d like to see, is us spend the resources more wisely to reduce and prevent the costs that are coming on our system,” Clark said, adding there is no price tag on the recommendations.
The Saskatchewan government’s statement said it plans to collaborate with Saskatchewan Health Authority and other agencies on the issues of crystal meth, opioids and substance use.
The government’s take-home naloxone program has distributed more than 2,100 kits and trained more than 4,600 people since November 2015.
A full report from the SCAA is expected on Nov. 21.