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Sask. drug alert system used once in first month: Ministry of Health

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Amid an increasingly complex addictions fight, a new tool launched by the province last month has only been used once so far.

On Jan. 11, the province launched a new drug alert system that so far has roughly 1,100 users, according to the Ministry of Health.

The system is meant to better coordinate the province`s approach of warning residents about drug toxicity. However, as of Feb. 23, just one alert had been issued, surrounding a positive xylazine test for a drug sample in Saskatoon.

While the system is still in its early stages of adoption, the harm reduction manager at Regina`s Nēwo-Yōtina Friendship Centre, Emile Gariepy, said in the centre’s case, it’s been difficult to determine when to send out alerts.

"It's kind of tough to send out drug alerts right now since mostly all fentanyl batches have been seen with xylazine in it,” Gariepy told CTV News. “So how often can we send out a drug alert when it’s about 50 per cent of the fentanyl that’s laced with xylazine?”

The alert system is only part of a changing provincial approach to addiction, after a year that remains on pace to set a new record for drug toxicity deaths in the province in 2023.

Among those changes is a restriction in funding for several harm reduction measures, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Tim McLeod saying at the time, “There is no safe use of illicit drugs.”

https://regina.ctvnews.ca/there-is-no-safe-use-sask-government-defends-decision-to-restrict-harm-reduction-measures-1.6755650

Drug mixtures ‘a death wish,’ testing urged

Shylo Stevenson, the Community Wellness Coordinator with Queen City Wellness Pharmacy said there were three overdoses within a block of the pharmacy on Friday.

“Everybody that we meet that comes in our doors, we never know if we're going to see them again because of the level of toxicity in the drugs,” Stevenson said.

At the heart of the problem are increasing potent varieties of fentanyl in Saskatchewan’s illicit drug supply, further complicated by the introduction of xylazine and similar substances, known as benzodiazapines or “benzos”.

“It gives the effect that they're going into a comatose state like unresponsive and it has no response to narcan or naloxone when we administer it,” Stevenson said.

“The mixtures of fentanyl, xylazine and benzo put together? It's a death wish,” Gariepy said.

At the last update, 329 deaths last year are confirmed to be drug-related by the coroner. If just 76 of the 148 unconfirmed deaths are verified, Saskatchewan will officially set a new record.

In January 2024 alone, the Saskatchewan Coroners Service opened 44 investigations into deaths suspected of being caused by drug toxicity.

The coroner has also added a new section to its statistics this year, tracking the benziodiazipines associated with drug-related deaths.

One way to combat the issue is through drug testing, a service the Nēwo-Yōtina Friendship Centre offers free of charge.

“We have a testing machine, it's completely free, we can look inside your drugs, we can tell you what's in it,” Gariepy said.

One recent sample analysis tested at the centre and flagged for overdose potential on Jan. 4 contained:

  • 50 to 55 per cent sugar
  • 20 to 25 per cent caffeine
  • 10 to 15 per cent fentanyl
  • 10 to 15 per cent xylazine

Anyone can sign up to receive drug toxicity alerts through the province’s website.

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