Sask. marks highest mental health and addictions budget on record, safe consumption sites left out

A teenager sitting on the stairs. More than half of young Canadians who seek mental health service over the past six months said they are not easy to access. Elva Etienne/ Getty Images

The Government of Saskatchewan is allocating a record nearly $518 million for mental health and addictions services, as announced in Wednesday’s provincial 2023-2024 budget.

This is an increase of more than $47 million compared to last year’s budget.

“Ensuring Saskatchewan people have access to the mental health and addictions services they need has been, and continues to be, a priority for our government,” Mental Health and Addictions Minister Everett Hindley said in a statement.

According to a news release, out of the $517.6 million, $438.4 million will be dedicated to mental health with the remaining $79.2 million for addictions.

New funding this year will focus on support for children and youth, and an expansion of addictions treatment spaces.

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“That is why we are making a record investment of $518 million in mental health and addictions services in Budget 2023-24, with funding for new initiatives that focus on the mental health of children and youth, addressing the needs of vulnerable populations, and adding more addictions treatment spaces so that more people can get the help they need,” Minister Hindley said.

The province is allocating $12.4 million for new targeted initiatives. Part of the breakdown includes:

  • $2.3 million for the province’s second phase of adding 150 additional addictions treatment spaces
  • $1 million directed towards the Provincial Drug Task Force such as overdose outreach support teams
  • $300,000 for mobile services operated by the Saskatoon Tribal Council
  • $3.5 million for new children and youth mental health and addictions support.

Out of the province’s $518 million for mental health and addictions, the budget did not make room for safe consumption sites yet again.

This is the fourth year in a row that Prairie Harm Reduction asked for funding, where no money will be provided for safe consumption sites.

Executive Director Kayle DeMong said she was disappointed.

“For our provincial government to say that they care about this population and that they are invested in seeing an improvement in quality of life for people that use substances … from a financial standpoint, it’s incredibly stressful,” DeMong said.

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“We are 100 per cent reliant on donations in order to run that program. And it is, you know, really, it’s unfair to ask the community to be funding a program that our province should be investing in,” she added.

According to Prairie Harm Reduction’s 2022 year-end statistics, they had 4,987 visits – 1,000 more visits compared to 2021.

They administered 4,871 safe consumptions last year.

Out of 11 overdoses at the facility, zero fatalities were reported, with a call to 9-1-1 made only once.

“The safe consumption site is not just about having a place for people to use. It’s a place where people engage in mental health care and medical care and social support and resources and education and community. And it’s an engagement point that doesn’t exist anywhere else in our community,” DeMong explained.

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DeMong said with their staff equipped to respond to overdoses, and with an increase of people using their site, it could contribute to decreasing the costs used for emergency services.

“Every time EMS has to be called, and that often means that (fire crews attend along with other resources), they’re taken to the emergency room. It’s hospital costs. It’s all of those things. And we’ve been able to prevent all of that. When you look at the overdoses that we have tended to within the building where EMS was only called one time,” DeMong added.

Drug toxicity deaths tracked by the Saskatchewan Coroners Service have shown a significant increase year by year.

In 2020, the province recorded 323 confirmed drug toxicity deaths. This is 144 more than the previous year.

In 2021, the province recorded 402 confirmed deaths and seven suspected drug toxicity deaths.

In 2022, 245 were confirmed deaths related to drug toxicity and 159 recorded suspected drug toxicity deaths.

The latest report released by Saskatchewan’s Coroners Office shows suspected drug toxicity deaths for 2023 had reached 103 by Feb. 28.

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With overdoses reaching high levels in the last few years, DeMong said her program is a step toward harm reduction.

DeMong said the province funds other programs the facility holds, including their case management team and their family support program, but isn’t sure why the safe-consumption site is left out.

DeMong said she will be meeting with Minister Hindley in April to seek answers.

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