YORKTON -- The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) is raising concerns about a high number of overdose deaths throughout rural parts of the province.

SUN created an advertisement campaign to bring awareness to addictions in the province. 

In 2020, Saskatchewan had 172 confirmed drug toxicity deaths, and another 207 suspected deaths – many of which were in rural Saskatchewan.

According to the Saskatchewan Coroners Service, there have been 36 drug-related deaths in 2021, so far. 

“I think that’s a conversation we need to open up. Mental health and addiction is not just an urban problem. It is in every corner of this province,” said SUN president Tracy Zambory.

SUN said the overdose issue has always been a problem, but the pandemic has only made it worse.

“Before this pandemic, anyone who was in a program lost that. It was closed. It was shut down. And they may not have good internet connection to try to be in a group virtually,” Zambory said.

Recovering addict Bob Wilson said addiction can happen anywhere and to anyone. 

“Addiction knows no race, no boundaries, no nothing. It doesn’t care if you’re rich poor, black, white or yellow or First Nations,” said Wilson. 

Zambory said it is time to have discussions on harm reduction. She said safe consumption sites would be places where drug users have a chance of living.

“We need to know there are people there who will council them. Who can make sure they can live through their experience so they can live to become healthy adults,” said Zambory. 

In a statement, the Ministry of Health said that the province is budgeting over $57 million for alcohol and drug services, which will in part go towards supporting harm reduction initiatives.

SUN said the number of overdose deaths will continue to increase unless this epidemic is addressed both provincially and federally.