'They are more than numbers': Advocates working to prevent overdoses as deaths rise
REGINA -- As health officials in Saskatchewan celebrate Regina’s success in flattening the curve of COVID-19, a second parallel public health crisis is spiralling out of control.
Apparent overdoses have claimed 53 lives this year, according to the Regina Police Service (RPS). Four of the deaths occurred in a three-day period over the weekend.
“They are more than numbers. They are people and it represents a huge loss to their families and also to out community,” said RPS spokesperson Elizabeth Popowich.
There have been 608 suspected overdoses where 911 has been called this year, according to police data – though not all overdoses are reported to police.
Officers have gone to 116 reported overdoses in 2021 and administered naloxone – a live-saving tool that temporarily reverses the effects of an opioid overdose – a dozen times.
ACCESS TO A LIFE-SAVING TOOL
People using opioids or those who could witness an overdose – like a friend or family member of someone who is using – are encouraged get their own naloxone kits.
Kits are distributed for free by select pharmacies and organizations through the provincial government’s take-home naloxone program.
Employees at SRx Pharmacy on Albert Street, a location that distributes naloxone, encourage everyone to carry a kit.
“You never know what kind of a situation you’re going to encounter. Whether you’re driving or walking down the street, you could just always help save a life,” said Heather House, a pharmacy assistant.
The pharmacy also provides training with an addictions counsellor that involves a video on how to use naloxone as an injection or in a nasal spray form, and allows people to practice injections on a dummy to make sure they’re comfortable administering it.
Though personal naloxone kits are only available for free at a few pharmacies in the city under the provincially-funded program, most stock the kits to sell to the general public for $40 to $50. According to Myla Bulych, director of professional practice at the Pharmacy Association of Saskatchewan (PAS), that fee can be an access barrier.
“That’s quite a bit, of course the publicly-funded ones are completely free, but we just haven’t seen the program expand as fast as we would like,” she said.
In September, former health minister Jim Reiter said talks were underway to expand the service in pharmacies.
According to PAS, only about 15 of the province’s 418 pharmacies have been included in the program. Bulych said the association has been in discussion with the Ministry for about a year and a half, in an effort to get free kits in pharmacies.
“Pharmacy has been ready, willing and able to offer naloxone kits broadly to the patients of Saskatchewan for a while now,” said Bulych. “I know the demand is there, and we hope the government will expand this program as soon as possible across the province.”
CTV News reached out to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health for comment but did not receive a response before the stated deadline.
The Nēwo Yōtina Friendship Centre is one of the community organizations that is a designated naloxone distributor.
It’s also the organization tasked with running Regina’s first overdose prevention site, where clients will be supervised in a safe, clean environment and staff – including an on-site paramedic – will be there to help in the event of an overdose.
Executive director Michael Parker said the site will also educate clients on how to keep themselves safe while using drugs by teaching safe practices like not using alone, knowing what you’re using and using safe amounts.
Parker is hopeful the site will help address the growing overdose crisis in the city.
“If what we do can deal with a fraction of that, then this will all be worth it,” said Parker.
The Nēwo Yōtina Friendship Centre is the final stages of preparation before opening. Parker said the centre is set to announce an opening date on Tuesday.