36 suspected January drug overdose deaths in Sask.: Coroner
REGINA -- Preliminary statistics indicate 36 people are believed to have died as a result of a drug overdose in the province during the first month of 2021, according to the Saskatchewan Coroners Service.
The first month of suspected death statistics for the year follow a 2020 that remains on pace to become Saskatchewan's worst year on record for drug toxicity deaths.
In the latest update, the number of confirmed drug overdose deaths for last year remained at 172, while the number of suspected deaths dropped by two to 205. Despite the change, if only six of the remaining suspected deaths are confirmed, 2020 would officially become Saskatchewan's deadliest, surpassing the 177 deaths in 2019.
Prairie Harm Reduction in Saskatoon currently operates the only supervised injection site in the province and said a number of factors are contributing to the increase.
"The border closure definitely has not helped the drug supply. We're seeing fentanyl mixed in everything," said Jason Mercredi, PHR's executive director. "The situation is rapidly deteriorating. That said, this isn't just because of COVID. The rest of Canada was in the midst of an opioid crisis before COVID, ours just happened to coincide with the same time COVID came in."
Locally in Regina, the Regina Police Service said emergency services including police, fire and EMS responded to a total of 114 overdose calls in January.
Police responded to 29 of those calls and had to administer Narcan in one case.
There are 13 apparent overdose deaths in the city that are awaiting confirmation by the Coroner, according to RPS.
At the Board of Police Commissioner's meeting in January, Chief Evan Bray said with a lower crime rate, it was "social challenges" like the more than 1,100 overdose calls that kept members busy.
Bray commended the enforcement efforts of the drug team to limit the supply coming into the city, but acknowledged enforcement alone cannot address the root causes of the issue.
"As long as we have thousands of people that still suffer with a serious substance abuse disorder or an addiction it doesn’t solve the problem, they’re going to find other things," Bray said on Jan. 25. "So we have to dig into the ways that we can help those types of people."
Mercredi says it will take more supports and resources being put in place across the province, some of which he hopes to see addressed in this year's provincial budget.
"When you don’t change anything and the situation is continually deteriorating, you’re going to see these terrible results for the province," Mercredi said. "We’re hopeful we’re going to see some meaningful funding and meaningful action by the province in the coming weeks and months."
One piece Mercredi said can be addressed in the more immediate future is the Nēwo Yōtina Friendship Centre's Overdose Prevention Site pilot project in Regina, which is still awaiting provincial approval as of Friday afternoon.
In a statement Monday, the provincial government said the project continues to work through the approval process to be designated as an Urgent Public Health Need Site exemption issued to Saskatchewan from Health Canada.
"Ministry officials have been working with their Executive Director to submit the necessary information required to be eligible for an exemption," the province said.