Drug problem growing in smaller centres, rural areas of Saskatchewan: RCMP

Click to play video: 'Rising drug problem in smaller Saskatchewan communities'
Rising drug problem in smaller Saskatchewan communities
Communities such as Yorkton, Sask., have voiced concerns regarding the rising numbers of drug overdoses being reported out of smaller centres and rural areas of the province – Jan 15, 2022

Last year was a record year for overdose deaths in Saskatchewan.

The Saskatchewan Coroners Service announced this week that 464 people died by a confirmed or suspected drug overdose in 2021, up from 327 in 2020 and 179 in 2019.

In Regina and Saskatoon alone there were a combined 172 confirmed drug overdose deaths in 2021.

However, while many of the province’s deaths are occurring in the province’s two largest municipalities, there are concerns regarding the growing numbers being reported out of smaller centres and rural areas.

One community worried about the increased amount is Yorkton, Sask.

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St. Sgt. Burton Jones took over as detachment commander of the Yorkton RCMP detachment in July of 2021.

In an interview with Global News, Jones said the detachment has been called to five confirmed fentanyl overdose deaths since he became detachment commander.

In the same time frame, he added there were at least 10 instances where RCMP members used Narcan to revive a person.

Jones said fentanyl has become a major problem in the city and area.

“I think it’s more of an issue or a problem here than we suspect,” he suggested. “It has become very cheap and it’s very easy to get your hands on, and because of that it has become a very popular drug in and around this area.”

It isn’t the only contributing factor to the overall problem, according to Jones.

He said many in the community don’t know or realize the synthetic opioid is creating societal issues in their own neighbourhoods.

“The problem with fentanyl is that it is so dangerous as a drug because it is 100 times more powerful than say morphine,” Jones explained. “A small amount is enough to kill someone.”

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Click to play video: 'Opioid Crisis: Mothers losing children to fentanyl overdoses speak out on small community in crisis'
Opioid Crisis: Mothers losing children to fentanyl overdoses speak out on small community in crisis

Jones mentioned that he met recently with Yorkton city council to discuss the severity of the drug situation in the community.

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Even members of city council were not prepared to hear the kind of impact the drug is having in their municipality.

“It was quite a surprise and a shock to us to learn that,” said Yorkton Mayor Mitch Hippsley. “We always suspected it was here, but we had no idea just how heavy it was here.”

Hippsley thinks the community awareness factor is key in order to know how to attack the issue in a city where the population is about 18,000.

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“This is something we hear that happens in big cities so you want to pretend it doesn’t happen here, but it has migrated here and is becoming a bigger issue,” he said.

“When we find out we have five (overdose deaths) in the last six months, on a per capita basis you end up with somewhere between 11 and 12 in one year in a city of our size. So are we concerned? Absolutely we are concerned.”

Hippsley hopes improved communication and community effort can help reduce the number of overdose deaths — and eventually lower the amount of drugs on streets — within the city and surrounding area.

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‘A hard go for all of us’

Jones emphasized that fentanyl is also present in rural and remote locations of Saskatchewan.

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Colleen Larocque, a resident of Spy Hill, a village approximately 100 kilometres southeast of Yorkton near the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border, lost her 29-year-old son Mitchell Sveinbjornson to a drug overdose on Aug. 22, 2020.

On the night he died, she told Global News, he went out with a group of friends and eventually went to purchase cocaine. However, the toxicology report showed fentanyl and carfentanil were present in the drugs he took.

Sveinbjornson had two daughters along with six siblings.

“They are building these drugs out of anything they can get their hands on,” said Larocque of drug suppliers.

“There have been a number of overdoses in rural — very rural — Saskatchewan over the last year with people you would never expect.”

Larocque said she understands the drugs were purchased somewhere in the Yorkton area based on what the investigation determined, but there are still questions around where her son obtained them.

She said a couple of things she’d like to see more of in rural communities are drug testing strips and detox or rehabilitation beds.

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“The accessibility in this province is very poor,” Larocque commented.

“As a community through COVID, we’ve worked so hard on mental health issues that our overdose numbers should not be climbing to where they are. It’s definitely not getting better.”

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Saskatchewan joins Moms Stop The Harm to end stigma behind drug overdoses

Larocque suggested that parents with teenagers or young adults in their family should keep a naloxone kit in their home and learn how to use it.

“You may not need it for your child, but you might need it for their friend. You just never know,” said Larocque.

“My children all have kits in their homes now whether they are users or not. At least they have the opportunity to save someone if the opportunity came up.”

— with files from Nathaniel Dove


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