As two public health crises collide with overdose deaths continuing to climb in Saskatchewan, many say urgent action is needed now.
According to the Saskatchewan Coroners Service, 296 drug-related deaths have been confirmed or suspected in the province between Jan. 1 and Oct. 26. That number far surpasses any previous year and represents a 75 per cent increase from 2019.
In Regina, overdose deaths have steadily increased in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. On Monday, Regina Police Service (RPS) responded to four overdose deaths alone, prompting a second public advisory in less than two weeks.
“People are dying in our city from drug overdoses. They’re not strangers; they are someone’s child, spouse, sibling, or parent. We can all play a role in preventing these needless fatal events,” RPS said in a press release on Monday.
In the past year, the founder of Queen City Patrol, Patty Will, said the volunteer group has picked up more than 27,000 needles off Regina streets.
“We started (Queen City Patrol) because we couldn’t sleep at night. We never would have thought it would explode like this,” Will said.
“We ourselves have come across three people overdosing.”
Jenny Churchill is part of Moms Stop The Harm, a network of families whose loved ones have died from substance abuse. She said they’ve been calling on the province to do more to address the crisis.
“There is no action plan, there is no urgency whatsoever. We are the only province in Canada, for example, that does not have a reporting system for overdoses,” Churchill said.
“We sit and we wait for years to see some responsible action that will save lives and in the meantime, people are dying and families are devastated.”
While COVID-19 has impacted some mental health and addiction services, Churchill said they want to see an immediate response from the province regarding the overdose crisis.
“Like COVID with our hospital system, there is a concern that at some point it is overwhelming the health-care system and the overdose crisis is the same. But the overdose crisis is overwhelming our first responders,” Churchill said.
Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Everett Hindley said the province has made significant investments in mental health and addictions but admits there are challenges due to the pandemic.
“It does create a bit of a slowdown, unfortunately, so we are trying to do as much as we can to provide timely access to these services for the people that need them and we are going to try and do that as much as we can,” Hindley said.
Still, advocates are calling for better access to Narcan, more space in mental health facilities and more detox beds.
Police are reminding the public of the Good Samaritan Overdose Act, which protects people from possession charges if they are experiencing an overdose.
It also said the public should not hesitate to call 911 in an overdose situation.