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Sask. harm reduction workers feeling the effects of 'recovery-based' strategy


Three months since the Government of Saskatchewan stopped funding single use pipes and needles for safe consumption sites – those working on the ground with people battling addiction say the effects are clear.

“I watched as we went from everyone being able to be safe, [to] someone in an alley actually using bleach because they found a needle off of the ground to clean it off,” harm reduction outreach worker, Brittany Cook said.

The change in policy came into effect in February. Since then, workers like Cook have called on the province to reverse course.

“We’re simply insisting that the needle exchange be what it was originally intended to be – which is an exchange,” Minister of Mental and Health Addictions Tim McLeod told CTV News. “Over the past decade we saw that needle exchange has turned more into a distribution model which is an unauthorized shift away from their originally intended purpose.”

The province has moved to a “recovery based approach” when it comes to treating those with addictions in Saskatchewan.

While the method is being applauded by those working within the walls of the legislative building – those working in communities, like mental health and addictions counselling student Payton Byrne, are telling a different story.

“The biggest thing that you’re seeing is unsafe use and dangerous use,” Byrne explained. “And in that you’re seeing a lot more hospital admissions, infections, and you’re seeing a lot more paraphernalia that’s being used by multiple people.”

The provincial government continues to offer programs in addition to needle exchanges. However, Cook says these programs don’t always provide the supports needed by those trying to get sober.

“I’m a recovering addict myself and every government based program that I tried … would fail,” she said. “You can’t put someone in a 28 day program and say ‘you’re fixed now.’”

Harm reduction sites are intended to provide a safe space for those with addictions so once they are ready to get sober, they have a starting point with specialist who they’ve already established trust with.

It’s a definition Cook and Byrne explain many people don’t understand if they’ve never visited a location.

“So the supervised consumption sites are not something that our government supports. I was in the Riversdale neighbourhood back before Christmas, but I didn’t attend Prairie Harm Reduction but certainly was there and witnessed the people in that neighbourhood,” McLeod said, after being asked when he had last visited a safe consumption site.

For now, those still making the effort to provide safe consumption supplies explain that they try to gain the resources through community funding, or out of pocket.

Otherwise they’re simply turning people away.

“It hurts when you see people who are addicts and it hurts when you can’t change that but what you can do is give them that love and compassion because people do want to change, people still wanna get sober,” Cook said.

“Its not like they’re dead set on being addicts, for the rest of their lives but for some people it’s all they know.” Top Stories

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