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Saskatchewan family calls for better addictions treatment during coronavirus pandemic

Family calling for better addictions treatment during coronavirus pandemic
WATCH: The family of Jesse Irvine, who died on July 10, said he died from an overdose and the COVID-19 lockdown may have kept him from getting help.

The family of a man who died, the family said, of an overdose are calling for the provincial government to provide more assistance for people struggling with addictions during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Laurie and John Irvine’s son Jesse died on July 10. Though they are awaiting the coroner’s confirmation, they have no doubt he died because of an overdose — caused, in part, because he couldn’t get help.

“I know he was struggling through (the COVID-19 pandemic) with everything being closed,” John said.

Read more: Methamphetamine use on the rise, city in ‘crisis’: AIDS Saskatoon

The Irvines said Jesse, who was 25 when he died, began using drugs when he was 14.

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He began smoking marijuana and proceeded, according to his mother, to eventually using OxyContin and fentanyl.

He had been in and out of detox and jail several times over the past decade and was trying to get help again in the weeks before his death—which he parents said he couldn’t access.

The family of Jesse Irvine, who died on July 10, said he died from an overdose and the COVID-19 lockdown may have kept him from getting help.
The family of Jesse Irvine, who died on July 10, said he died from an overdose and the COVID-19 lockdown may have kept him from getting help. Courtesy of Laurie Irvine.

In March, the coronavirus pandemic forced many addiction treatment centres and services to close, limit the capacity of participants or move their services online or over the phone.

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March is also when paramedics started reporting a higher number of overdose calls.

Medavie Health Services West responded to almost four times the number of overdose calls in May 2020 than in May 2019.

Read more: ‘Left behind’: Addiction moves far beyond city limits in Saskatchewan

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The trend continued even after treatment centres starting reopening. Medavie reported a weekly record of 94 overdose calls during July.

John and Laurie told Global News getting adequate treatment for an addiction can be difficult at the best of times, nevermind during a global health crisis.

Laurie added that Jesse was extremely worried about catching COVID-19 and that he was arrested a few months ago because he would have a roof over his head in jail.

“The problem is that you go to jail when you’re an addict and you get released,” she said.

“He got plopped out on the street with no money, nowhere to go… so what’s he going to do? He’s just going to repeat the same thing.”

Read more: Saskatoon police officers use Narcan 3 times during overnight overdose calls

Jesse’s parents said they’re worried another wave of COVID-19 in the fall will result in more overdoses and more deaths.

In a statement, the Ministry of Health said the pandemic “presented challenges for many inpatient services including inpatient addictions treatment.”

“We will continue to work with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, including during a potential second wave of COVID, to ensure that individuals are able to access addictions services.”

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The statement urged anyone with substance use challenges to reach out through their local addictions intake.

Laurie said she’s now dedicated to improving that process, to advocating for better and more accessible treatment to ensure what happened to her son doesn’t happen to anyone else.

Read more: Struggling with an addiction in Canada? These resources can help

She is calling for the government to provide more support for people with addictions during the pandemic by providing shelter.

She also said wants the government to fund supervised consumption sites and long-term treatment centres.

“I wasn’t going to let him die in vain,” she said.

“In that his fight is over and my fight is beginning.”