With roughly half of arrests involving drugs or alcohol intoxication, police have teamed up with paramedics to address addiction issues in Prince Albert, Sask.
The partnership with Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) offers health-care intervention — particularly support to stabilize and detoxify — for intoxicated individuals who are incarcerated in Prince Albert Police Service’s detention centre.
Police Chief Jonathan Bergen said, with more than 30,000 arrests over the past five years, there are many times when additional medical attention might be required to ensure the safety of those detained.
“(Intoxicated detainees) are often … not fit to tend to themselves. They are intoxicated to the state where we don’t have anywhere else for them to be, they need to be monitored and we need to protect them from their intoxication, the intoxicated state that they’re in,” he said.
“There’s different detox centres that are available as options for our officers but if those beds are full or if the person is not compliant or difficult to deal with, they’ll often end up (in the detention centre).”
Officials said those who are incarcerated in cells will have access to paramedic services, allowing them to be triaged, assessed, treated and, if needed, taken to hospital.
“Having a trained paramedic that knows how to assess any medical need for anybody that comes into our detention centre is definitely an enhanced model. It’s not new to policing but it’s new to Prince Albert police,” he said.
“With our model earlier … we had a supervisor that would have to determine when it was appropriate to call for medical support.
“Now, with a paramedic who has a much higher level of training as it relates to health and has the equipment to properly assess and triage somebody who will be able to assess properly when somebody needs to go to the hospital.”
Police expect that having a senior medical professional on hand in the detention area daily between 7:30 p.m. and 7:30 a.m. will lead to enhanced support for vulnerable residents and result in fewer follow-up trips to hospital.
“During the hours of paramedics available, there will be that health check, that health assessment, as they’re being admitted into detention and then monitored regularly throughout the shift as well to continue to assess and weigh any change in that person’s health,” Bergen said.
“The assessment is done here, where the officer doesn’t need to take that person necessarily into the emergency department for that health assessment.
“We believe that it’s going to take some of the pressures off the emergency department.”
SHA’s director of mental health and addictions for the north east, Jennifer Suchorab, said their physicians and other health staff have noted the increased presentation of addiction intoxication over the last two years.
“Addiction is a terrible thing and I think that once we have access and availability of these harmful drugs, when it’s in the community, it’s going to have an impact on the entire community and I think that’s obviously why we’ve seen it, an increased issue,” Bergen said.
“Methamphetamine is so terribly addictive that once you have sampled and tried and exposed yourself to it, it’s very difficult to move past that addiction.
“We know that addiction issues will definitely be seen in different crimes and we see that because people that do suffer from different addictions will be desperate to fuel their addiction and that could lead to theft and other things so we do tie it to crime.”
The police chief said almost 6,000 arrests are made annually.
“We separate out the reason for intoxication and that would be somebody that’s experienced a drug intoxication as well as an alcohol intoxication and those are often about half,” Bergen said.
“The other half, where people are arrested for charges or outstanding arrest warrants when we make those arrests, it’s not unusual for an intoxicant to be an issue of arrest as well.”
Parkland Ambulance Care chief Trevor Dutchak said he’s looking forward to continuing an initiative that also ran in 2018.
“It’s identical to the 2018 model, with a small change in our staffing. We know that when we are able to assess and care for these people without delay, it improves their health outcomes and reduces the burdens on hospitals,” Dutchak said in a press release.
The 2021 pilot project started on May 1 and goes a full year.
“The (2018) program was basically a temporary trial and there was no specific reason for it to cease. Of course, any time there’s a program like this, funding is going to be an issue,” Bergen said.
“We think that after a longer term of assessing, we’re going to recognize the value and have to consider how we continue to go forward with this model.
“I think the model will definitely show that it’s an important model. How we fund that will be an important discussion after the pilot’s assessed.”
Funds for the 2021 project came from the provincial government’s mental health and addictions budget.