REGINA -- The Nēwo Yōtina Friendship Centre said it's determined to launch a pilot overdose prevention site in Regina sometime in January 2021.

The Centre announced it is making an exemption application to the provincial government for an urgent public health needs site, in response to a high number of overdoses and deaths seen in Regina during 2020. It’s an issue the organization is far from immune to.

“We’ve lost a client recently, we’ve had staff affected by the losses from overdose,” said Michael Parker, Nēwo Yōtina Executive Director. “It would’ve been helpful a year ago, and things don’t seem to be getting better.”

“If we could have started today, we would have.”

The pilot site is planned to be located within the Friendship Centre’s building at the corner of 11 Ave. and Osler St. with plans for some necessary renovations already in the works, along with staff training and other preparations.

“We have renovation plans to just adapt the existing space. Very simple, put up some walls, open up a door that was sealed by the previous occupant and get two booths in place and some ventilation work to make sure that it’s safe,” Parker explained. “In some ways, this is not really complicated to have a space where people can use substances and be able to access supports.”

“That can save lives and you can’t access treatment if you’re not alive,” Parker said.

The application has the backing of both Regina’s mayor and police chief.

As of Dec. 16, the Regina Police Service say there have been 1,060 overdoses and 106 apparent deaths as a result of drug use in the city in 2020.

Police have also had to administer Narcan, a nasal spray carried by all frontline RPS officers used to prevent opioid overdoses from drugs like fentanyl a total of 61 times.

The site would be Saskatchewan's second supervised injection site, after one was opened in Saskatoon by Prairie Harm Reduction in September.

That organization credits the Centre for stepping up into a leadership role in the Queen City.

“It’s a big day for Saskatchewan, the need for these sites is sadly growing and the need for multiple leaders to be stepping up in the community is vital. Now that we have two of us, we’re looking for that number three,” said Prairie Harm Reduction Executive Director Jason Mercredi. “It’s not going to be stopping anytime soon.” 

PHR will be helping with some of the staff training for the Regina site, Mercredi emphasizing the organization’s goal is not to expand provincially but instead assist and support local groups and initiatives.

“But if we don’t have local [organizations] stepping up then we’re going to step in, because the amount of overdose deaths happening in this province is not acceptable and we couldn’t be more thrilled to have somebody else in the fight with us,” Mercredi said.

According to the Saskatchewan Coroners Service, from the start of 2020 through Dec. 1 there have been 122 confirmed and 201 suspected drug toxicity deaths provincially.

If even half of the suspected deaths are confirmed beyond preliminary data, the province would surpass its previous high of 171 deaths in 2018.

In a statement to CTV News, the province said it’s concerned about the increase in overdoses in 2020 and the impact on individuals, families and communities.

“We are committed to working with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, community-based organizations, police services and municipal partners to find solutions to address this complex issue,” the statement reads. “The Ministry of Health is aware of interest from the Nēwo Yōtina Friendship Centre to operate an Overdose Prevention Site.”

Parker also says the organization plans to use the pilot as a reference point to determine the possible need of either a larger scale site or a series of smaller sites run by different organizations throughout Regina in the long term.