A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in this file photo from Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in this file photo from Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Province rejected funding despite advice drug consumption sites save lives: notes

REGINA — Documents show that Saskatchewan health officials who were considering a proposal for the province’s first supervised drug consumption site found such spaces save lives and money without risking public safety.

The information is contained in briefing notes prepared for the deputy minister of health on a request from the site’s organizers for $1.4 million a year to help keep it running 24-7. The government decided not to commit any cash.

The partially redacted documents, released to The Canadian Press under freedom-of-information legislation, cover the period from November 2019 to March 2020 when Saskatoon-based Prairie Harm Reduction was setting up the site.

Fundraising in the community allowed the site to open its doors last October, but at reduced hours.

“It’s pretty impossible to argue that we don’t need them in Saskatchewan,” said executive director Jason Mercredi.

“The scientific evidence shows that (supervised consumption sites) save lives,” said one briefing note.

The sites are meant to be safe injection or ingestion sites for all drugs, but primarily deal with opioids such as fentanyl.

The document cited data that “shows more than 4,600 reported overdoses have been reversed without a single death” since 2017 at sites across Canada.

It also said the programs can reduce health-care costs by preventing overdoses and reducing infections from drug injection.

Another briefing document pointed to specific concerns raised by some residents about the Saskatoon site. They worried it could result in increased violence and drug use.

“Most current evidence suggests that the presence of a (supervised consumption site) in a community does not result in negative impacts on public safety or public order, particularly when the community is already managing the presence of injection drug use,” the document reads.

Jim Reiter, health minister at the time, said the government chose to prioritize money for treatment beds, counselling and other medical support, but suggested the province should at some point revisit the need for a consumption site.

Mercredi said Prairie Harm Reduction serves about 120 people a week, plus many others who visit its drop-in centre, which offers different supports.

The biggest complaint he said he hears is that the site is only open in the daytime during business hours. It is closed on weekends.

“The scariness of our site has kind of gone away,” he said.

“People, I think, thought we were going to be this big bad wolf and instead they find out we’re a lot of smiles, coffee, a safe place to go.”

Mercredi said the opioid crisis has only worsened since the initial funding request, so he hopes the province will reconsider.

The Saskatchewan Coroners Service said 2020 was the deadliest year on record for drug overdoses.

The data shows there were 345 confirmed and suspected drug toxicity deaths, including 12 from suicide. Many of the deaths involved fentanyl or related opioids.

There were 75 deaths in the first two months of this year.

“It’s palpable now,” said Mercredi. “People are much more aware of the overdose crisis … 350 folks dying last year — that’s a lot of families. That’s a lot of friend circles.”

Addictions Minister Everett Hindley said many of the province’s overdoses have occurred in Saskatoon and Regina, but added it’s not just a city problem.

“How do you best deploy those resources across Saskatchewan to try to get prevention and treatment supports to as many people as you can no matter where you live?” he said.

Hindley said supervised consumption sites are one way to tackle addictions and overdoses, but “there’s other options out there.”

The province funds different harm reduction programs and is looking to expand access to free naloxone kits, which reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, he said.

“There is a stigma associated with drug use and we’re working hard to try and change the conversation,” said Hindley.

“This is a provincewide discussion. It’s why we’re looking at provincewide solutions.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 6, 2021

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta vaccine rollout expanding to front-line health-care workers

More than 240,000 eligible health-care workers can begin booking vaccine appointments starting… Continue reading

File photo
The Red Deer Rebels will have three new assistant coaches when the WHL regular season starts on Friday. Brad Flynn (left), will be on the bench alongside fellow assistant Ryan Colville (right) head coach Brent Sutter (middle). (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Sutter steps down as Red Deer Rebels head coach

Red Deer Rebels Owner, GM and head coach Brent Sutter has stepped… Continue reading

Premier Jason Kenney announced $200 million more money that will benefit seniors living in continuing care on Wednesday. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program expanding

Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program will expand to as many as… Continue reading

Parents and students learned Tuesday what the coming school year will look like. It's pretty much back to business as usual, said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. School precautions include frequent cleaning, keeping students in the same groups where possible, planning the school day to allow for physical distancing and staying home when sick. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s largest school board says no to United Conservative draft school curriculum

CALGARY — Alberta’s largest school board says it will not use the… Continue reading

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan is among those who have signed an open letter criticizing the government’s return to stricter health measures. (Advocate file photo).
Updated: Kenney tells UCP caucus COVID-19 dissent OK, breaking health rules means expulsion

15 MLAs released letter on Wednesday critical of new health restrictions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau watches a speaker appear by videoconference during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, April 9, 2021. Grassroots Liberals have overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution calling on the federal government to develop and implement a universal basic income — despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's apparent lack of enthusiasm for the idea. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau winds up Liberal convention with election campaign-style speech

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau wound up a three-day Liberal convention Saturday with… Continue reading

Team Canada skip Brendan Bottcher makes a shot against Italy at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, April 6, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Men’s world curling championship in Calgary in COVID limbo

CALGARY — The men’s world curling championship in Calgary remained suspended Saturday… Continue reading

Pipes intended for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline are shown in Gascoyne, N.D. on Wednesday April 22, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
Non-profit Quebec law centre to aid environmental group targeted by Alberta oil firm

QUEBEC — The Quebec Environmental Law Centre is coming to the aid… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservatives cite empathy, relationships as ways to help expand their movement

OTTAWA — Conservatives should show empathy with Black residents who say they’ve… Continue reading

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. New Democrats are reconvening for the second day of a three-day policy convention as they look to push past the glitches of the virtual event's opening sessions and rally around keynote speaker John Horgan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
New Democrats reconvene as hiccups, frustrations plague national policy convention

OTTAWA — New Democrats reconvened Saturday for the second day of a… Continue reading

FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a joint statement with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his commitment to the Republican Party — and raise the possibility that someone else will be the GOP's next presidential nominee — in a closed-door speech to donors Saturday night, April 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
Trump in 2024? He says only that ‘a Republican’ will win

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his… Continue reading

A cruise ship sits docked waiting for passengers to be evacuated in Kingstown, on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, Friday, April 9, 2021 due to the eruption of La Soufriere volcano. (AP Photo/Orvil Samuel)
Ash-covered St. Vincent braces for more volcanic eruptions

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — People who ignored an initial warning to evacuate… Continue reading

Owner of 4 Point Taekwondo Kevin Mejia holds a board as organizer and martial artist Kevin Olsen breaks it in Edmonton on Friday, April 9, 2021. One hundred martial artists from around the world, will be breaking a board for an event called "Break for a Breakthrough." The idea is for martial artists to unite and re-engage with the arts because they may have drifted away or lost enthusiasm as a result of the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Break for a Breakthrough: Canadian hosts international martial arts demonstration

EDMONTON — Whether he’s breaking a wooden board, a clay tile, cement… Continue reading

Most Read