In his eight years in harm prevention, Jason Mercredi says things have never been worse.
The executive director of AIDS Saskatoon says last month, the non-profit handed out 347 naloxone kits, up from 254 in all of last year.
“We’re just seeing the demand skyrocket,” Mercredi told Global News.
“There’s a lot of people dying in the community.”
Methamphetamine and fentanyl are two of the most prevalent drugs in Saskatoon, said Mercredi and Saskatoon police.
“We have a double whammy in that we have the existing crystal meth crisis and we now have the overdose crisis,” Mercredi said.
Last week alone, Medavie Health Services West responded to 88 overdose calls.
“We’re now in a bad spot,” Mercredi said. “We’ve been saying for years that it’s a coming storm.”
The storm arrived in February, he said, and he worries it’ll get “much, much worse.”
Meth incidents on the rise
From January to June, there were 290 incidents of meth possession and trafficking, up from 201 in the first half of last year, according to the Saskatoon Police Services (SPS).
“We’ve got two drug investigative teams working full time in Saskatoon and they’re never hard pressed for anything to do,” said Staff Sgt. Grant Obst, lead for the SPS’s street crime section.
The pandemic could be contributing to the meth uptick, he said, leaving some people feeling isolated with limited access to addictions support.
Meanwhile, closed borders make some drugs less accessible, while meth can be made locally.
“We deal with the fallout of meth on a daily basis,” Obst said. “It’s becoming more and more of a problem.”
‘Advocating for people to die’
Mercredi said Saskatoon needs a supervised consumption site to respond to the fallout.
It’s time to stop debating the necessity and morality of supervised consumption sites, he said.
“If you don’t believe in consumption sites, you’re basically advocating for people to die,” he said.
“We’re no longer in the justification stage.”
In the 2020/21 budget, the province denied AIDS Saskatoon $1.3 million in annual funding to run its consumption site, which is built, but non-operational.
A spokesperson for Saskatchewan’s health ministry did not answer a question about why the funding was denied, but noted AIDS Saskatoon received $130,000 to cover the salaries for two additional caseworkers.
The ministry also committed $435 million to addictions and mental health services in the new budget.
“This funding will be used to increase access to mental health and addictions treatment beds and supports and to provide intensive children and youth supports,” the statement reads.
It has also invested $1.4 million in a new addictions treatment centre in Estevan, 460 kilometres southeast of Saskatoon. It’s set to open this summer.