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'It's very, very potent': Fentanyl the main factor in record number of drug toxicity deaths, Sask. coroner says


The numbers are alarming as Saskatchewan looks to be on the brink of reporting its deadliest year of drug toxicity incidents in recent memory.

Saskatchewan’s Chief Coroner Clive Weighill spoke about the potentially recording breaking and extremely somber milestone with CTV News’ Cole Davenport.

Their full conversation can be viewed using the video player at the top of this story.

While the epidemic of drug toxicity is a complicated issue – Weighill was quick to point out that fentanyl could be considered the leading edge of the deadly wave.

“It’s very, very potent. So a very small amount can lead to a very dangerous end for somebody. We have Narcan, which helps. It can bring back somebody hopefully from an overdose. But if it's mixed with etizolam or xylazine – which are sedatives – Narcan won't reverse those effects. So it's a big problem,” he explained.

The combination of drugs leading to fatal consequences, according to Weighill, is all too common.

“It's mainly fentanyl, or derivatives, carfentanyl, acetylfentanyl and we find that it's always polysubstance usually,” he said. “Very seldom do we find anybody that's died that's only had one drug in their system.”

Beginning in British Columbia and spreading eastward – fentanyl has found its way into every corner of the country.

As Weighill explained, if Saskatchewan’s drug toxicity problem had a centre, it would be found in the Queen City itself.

“It's a problem right across the province, right from the southern border to the northern from east to west. Regina happens to be the kind of – we call it the epicenter in Saskatchewan. We're almost double in Regina what Saskatoon is historically for the last four or five years,” he said.

“But it doesn't matter. Small towns, large cities – it's a problem right across the province.”

Drug toxicity was confirmed in 261 deaths in the province since the start of the year. Drug toxicity is suspected in a further 176 cases – leading to a total of 437.

Broken down by population centre, Regina has ranked first since 2020 by a wide margin (2020 – 146, 2021 – 197, 2022 – 152, 2023 – 115).

Saskatoon has consistently reported around half the deaths of Regina (2020 – 73, 2021 – 114, 2022 – 77, 2023 – 57).

Other cities such as Moose Jaw, Lloydminster and Prince Albert follow Saskatchewan’s two major centres by a large margin – recording death tolls in the low double and single digits.

Saskatchewan’s drug toxicity death toll has risen by an average of 15 per cent since 2016 – only declining once in 2022 by 13 per cent.

In the vast majority of confirmed drug toxicity deaths, fentanyl and its associated variants were identified as responsible.

To a much lesser extent, methadone and hydromorphone were detected.

“In 2016, we saw about 106 deaths. This year, we're gonna be up over 400,” Weighill said.

“That’s a big increase in the last six or seven years.”


Like so many other issues, knowledge is the first step in fixing it. Weighill said he believes there’s many misconceptions surrounding those who are addicted to narcotics.

“I think education is really important. I think a lot of people misunderstand drugs. They think it's a homeless problem, its youth that are doing it. When we look at our statistics, the main cohort of people that are passing away are between 30 and 49,” he said.

“It’s people that have productive lives – that got involved with opioids and lost control of their life and ended up being addicted.”

When it comes to outreach, Weighill said that friends and loved ones have important roles to play.

“Well, I think you have to show them that you still love them. You can't put your mindset into the mindset of somebody that's addicted. It's very, very hard. They live for the one day. They live for the high. They'll do anything they can to get that drug,” he said.

“Try to help them if you can. Because one day, hopefully, they're going to come to the conclusion maybe this is the today I'm going to try and stop.”


When those suffering from addictions finally make the decision to stop, Weighill put an emphasis on support services needing to be available at very short notice.

“If somebody decides they're going to give up drugs that day, and they have to wait two months or a month or three weeks to get into help, you know what's going to happen? Tomorrow they're going to change their mind because they're addicted and they're going to be back in the addiction cycle again,” he said.

“So I think it's important to support them, do whatever you can for them and I think it's smart for people to be educated about what's happening [with] drugs.” Top Stories

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