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Saskatoon and Regina hold events advocating for more harm reduction supports

Event held in Regina for International Overdose Awareness Day. Global News/ Derek Putz

The number of overdose deaths in Saskatchewan has more than tripled over the past six years.

That’s according to the Saskatchewan Coroner’s Service, who said 366 deaths were reported in 2021, compared to 92 in 2016.

Wednesday is International Overdose Awareness Day, and people gathered at the Saskatoon Indian and Metis Friendship Centre to get the point across that this was a growing issue, and supports are needed.

Jocelyn Trotchie works with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan, and said the province needs to know.

Read more: Sask. advocates paint chairs purple for those lost to overdose

“We need to keep reminding the government, the health officials, that this is a crisis right now,” said Trotchie.

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Jade Creelman is the harm reduction coordinator at Choke Cherry Studios, and said these deaths could be stopped.

“It’s all preventable, and I think that’s what upsets me most. If funding were going into harm reduction, and if there were a safe supply these deaths would not be happening,” said Creelman.

The province said they’ve invested $470 million into mental health and addictions services for  2022-23, but organizations like Prairie Harm Reduction have said they’ve been denied provincial funding for the third year in a row, have had to work limited hours, and had to fight to keep the lights on.

Elizabeth Plishka is the director of support services for Prairie Harm Reduction, and echoed the sentiment that more help was needed.

“More funding. More support for people who are transient, who do use substances,” said Plishka.

Read more: ‘We are literally seeing people die before our eyes’: Toxic drugs continue to take toll on Okanagan

She listed things like housing supports, support for safe consumption sites, more wrap-around services, and more help for healthcare as things that needed to be focused on.

Daniel Hern was an addict for 23 years, but got clean five and a half years ago. He started a podcast called Hard Knox Talks to advocate for change and to give a voice from the perspective of someone who has used drugs.

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Hern said we needed to do more than just talk to the government about this crisis.

“Education. More advocacy. We live in a democracy, don’t we? So, instead of just advocating the government, I think the voice towards the general public needs to be amplified so that we can bring education to people who think differently than we do,” said Hern.

An event also took place at the mâmawêyatitân centre in Regina, and event organizer Ronnie Nordal said education was made available for anyone who wanted it.

Event held in Regina for International Overdose Awareness Day. Global News/ Derek Putz

“We can each take naloxone training, carry naloxone kits. Training is available today, naloxone kits are here for the taking. Each one of us has the ability to save a life,” said Nordal.

Medavie Health Services West noted at the beginning of August that over the past two years, they’ve seen an increased potency in illicit drugs, and have had to increase the amount of Narcan given to patients while they were being transported to the hospital.

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Carissa Issac’s mother died from an overdose back in 2020, and she said events like the ones held in Regina and Saskatoon are important.

“My mom had written in her diary, ‘I just want my daughters to be proud of me again,’ and she never got that opportunity to get better because it took her. Events like this I feel are very important because it allows for reality to kind of be seen,” said Isaac.

— with files from Montana Getty

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