First overdose prevention site in Regina officially opens

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First overdose prevention site in Regina officially opens
WATCH: With fatal overdoses devastating the city over the past year, advocates hope Regina's first supervised injection site will help to start to turn things around – May 26, 2021

With dangerous and deadly drug overdoses continuing in Regina, a Core neighbourhood friendship centre has officially opened a provincially sanctioned overdose prevention site.

“Having this service open is just so imperative — so that we can see a shift in this really disturbing trend,” said Michael Parker, executive director of the Nēwo Yōtina Friendship Centre during the media launch on Tuesday afternoon.

The friendship centre applied to the province in December for an exemption from the province to operate an Urgent Public Health Need Site. It was temporarily granted one in March to run the supervised injection service until September.

Since the site’s soft launch last week, four people have already used it, Parker told Global News.

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He said he believes there’s a role for such a service in the city over the longer term, adding that plans are underway to get the necessary approvals to continue it beyond the fall.

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This iteration of the site is being funded by pandemic response grants. Operations beyond then will require at least an additional $50,000 in funding, estimates Parker.

“We’re going to need the continued support of the community as well as the support of funders and in particular, we’re going to be seeking provincial support,” he said.

He’s hopeful the Saskatchewan government will assist financially, despite the well-documented struggle Prairie Harm Reduction has had in acquiring such money for its site.

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AIDS Program South Saskatchewan (APSS), which has been working closely with the friendship centre in recent months, said the new overdose prevention site is a welcome addition to the services available to its clients.

In the months between the application to the province and the site’s opening, APSS program coordinator Sophie Pitman said 449 people who had use of the naloxone kits distributed by the organization in an overdose situation returned for a replacement one.

Using a system of self-reporting, they indicated to APSS that 19 times, they were unable to revive the person.

Another concerning statistic to Pitman pertains to seeking medical help.

Sixty-one per cent of people responding to overdoses during the aforementioned time period indicated to APSS that they did not call 9-1-1.

Despite the protections of Canada’s Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, “there is still that fear that if someone calls 9-1-1, that police will come and people will get arrested,” Pitman said.

Still, the Regina Police Service says that on average right now more than four overdose-related 9-1-1 calls come in every day.

Pitman is hopeful that the overdose prevention site, where clients consent to intervention if something goes wrong, will help to get more people the appropriate medical attention.

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