Prairie Harm Reduction warns about new substance amid rising drug overdoses

Click to play video: 'Prairie Harm Reduction warns about new substance amid rising drug overdoses'
Prairie Harm Reduction warns about new substance amid rising drug overdoses
Prairie Harm Reduction warned about a substance they had never seen before that was brought in Tuesday, that tested for fentanyl and benzodiazepines – Aug 5, 2022

Prairie Harm Reduction (PHR) in Saskatoon is warning about a new substance, suspected to be meth, that was brought in and tested positive for both fentanyl and benzodiazepines.

Kayla Demong, executive director for PHR, said the substance was something she’d never seen before, and was brought in on Tuesday by someone accessing their services.

She said it had a yellowish, off-white look to it.

“With fentanyl and benzodiazepines becoming more of a concern here, we watch out for them and test for them so we can provide education to the community on safer ways of using those substances so that we’re lessening the risk of overdose,” said Demong.

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“We know that the concern has been growing through the last few years, as we’ve seen an ever increasing number of overdose deaths in our province. And the numbers that have been put out for the first half of this year are showing that we will probably surpass last year’s numbers.”

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In Saskatchewan, the number of overdose deaths has more than tripled over the past six years, with 366 deaths being reported last year by the Saskatchewan Coroners Service compared to 92 in 2016.

Fentanyl is a main contributor to the number of fatalities, with 259 fentanyl-caused deaths reported in 2021 compared to eight reported in 2016.

Among the fentanyl-caused deaths in 2021, 60 happened in Saskatoon while 161 were reported in Regina.

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Demong said the testing of drugs is fairly limited, noting that their testing strips only identify if a chemical is in a substance, not how much is in it.

She added that one of the main hurdles is having been denied provincial funding – they’ve had to work limited hours and fight to keep the doors open as a result.

Troy Davies, director of Public Affairs for Medavie Health Services West, said they are seeing an increased potency in the illicit drugs they’ve been treating patients for over the past two years.

“How we tell that, is how much Narcan we’re actually giving patients when we are transporting them. So, typically five years ago one dose for us, which we give intravenously, would be enough. (Recently) we’ve had patients receive up to eight doses of Narcan while being transported to the hospital, which is something we’ve never seen before,” said Davies.

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He added that increased overdoses is a trend being seen across Canada.

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“There’s really no playbook for this, since the lockdown of COVID we’ve seen numbers skyrocket.”

Morgan Hackl, fire chief for the Saskatoon Fire Department, said the number of calls they respond to involving ovedoses keeps trending higher.

“In 2020, we saw a spike of 90 per cent over the year prior,” said Hackl. “Into 2021 that increase compounded, and we saw another 58 per cent increase in overdoses.”

He noted that already in 2022 overdose calls have gone up another seven per cent. They’ve responded to 466 calls for overdoses so far this year.

Hackl said it will take a lot of work if we’re ever going to get back to those pre-pandemic numbers.

“It’s going to take a whole community approach. It’s not just the front-end response, the emergency responders, it’s working with different levels of government for support connected to mental health and addictions.

“The homelessness crisis across Canada is at an all time high, so what we’re learning is that this whole community approach – working with social services, working with health, working with different levels of municipal government all together to really work to support community safety and well-being – needs to occur.”

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