Saskatoon safe injection site set to open in October
- NC Raine | August 07, 2020
This fall, Saskatchewan will be opening the doors of its first safe drug consumption site, as Prairie Harm Reduction (PHR) in Saskatoon has set October 1 as its date of commencement.
The site will be opening following a summer of record overdoses in Saskatoon. Medavie Health Services West received 94 overdose calls from July 6 to 13, and a total of 815 emergency calls logged, both of which are the most recorded in a single week. Overdoses in the city have been rising steadily since March.
“We’re seeing a massive spike in overdoses. That trend is not looking good for the future. Not to mention, we’re dealing with a crystal meth epidemic, the HIV epidemic, and a Hep-C epidemic, so we’re going to need innovative programming to get a handle on this,” said Jason Mercredi, executive director of PHR (formerly known as AIDS Saskatoon).
Mercredi explained that an increase in fentanyl and heroin in the city – often with fentanyl disguised as heroin - could partly be causing the increase in overdoses, as well as the extreme isolation many have experienced as a result of COVID-19.
“We already have a lot of people using drugs outside our property, and the neighbourhood in general, so the goal is to get them off the streets and inside the building so we can get them connected with services,” said Mercredi.
The safe consumption site is expected to service about 72 people per day when working at maximum capacity. It will be staffed by a primary care paramedic and will operate from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday.
The schedule is a scaled-down version from initial plans, said Mercredi, after the provincial government did not grant PHR the $1.3 million the organization sought to keep the site open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Instead, they received $130,000 in the 2020-21 provincial budget for two new case managers.
“It was a pretty big hit,” said Mercredi. “We understand that this is new, innovative programming, but that’s what’s needed at the end of the day. All of our research indicates this is the way we need to go.”
“Part of being a community organization is that you need to do what the community needs and respond to those needs. It’s not always about doing necessarily what the government is comfortable with or what it wants. With that said, they said it wasn’t a ‘no’ forever.”
Mercredi also said the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) ‘dropped the ball’ in terms of how they report on the health crisis. Every other jurisdiction in Canada releases real-time data on overdoses in the community, which SHA is failing to do, said Mercredi. Additional funding could help fill this gap, he said.
“SHA should be releasing data and talking about what they’re doing to combat these things…but right, now it seems like it's a justice issue, and when you talk to (Saskatoon Chief of Police Troy) Cooper, he’s the first to say we’re not going to arrest our way out of this situation,” said Mercredi.
“We really need the health authority to step, and if they're not going to step up they need to fund us to do it.”