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Saskatchewan’s first drug site still to open without provincial funding


June 18, 2020
By The Canadian Press

SASKATOON — A harm-reduction organization planning to open Saskatchewan’s first supervised drug consumption site says without provincial funding it will have to reduce operations.

AIDS Saskatoon, which supports people living with AIDS, HIV and hepatitis C, had requested $1.3 million from the province to open the site around the clock 365 days a year.

Executive director Jason Mercredi said the province told the group before the COVID-19 pandemic hit that it wouldn’t be getting the full amount, but there would be some money for two case managers.

On Monday, the province tabled its budget with no money for operating the drug site.

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“We’re still disappointed,” Mercredi said Tuesday.

“We’ve seen since COVID hit, nothing but overdoses increase.”

Data provided by the Ministry of Health shows that Saskatoon and surrounding communities had nearly 450 overdose-related emergency calls — the highest in the province — from January to April.

Saskatoon police said officers went to 72 overdose calls from the start of the year to mid-May, compared with 56 during the same time last year.

Mercredi said the group is still planning to open the site this year “come hell or high water.”

However, without more provincial help, he said it will have to reduce planned staffing and hours so fewer clients will be seen.

The Ministry of Health said it will spend $435 million on addictions and mental health this year, including $1.4 million for a new crystal methamphetamine treatment centre in southern Saskatchewan.

“We had to set priorities. We just think right now, with the increase in addictions, that the focus for this year needed to be on treatment beds, on counselling, on medical supports,” Health Minister Jim Reiter said Tuesday.

He added that the province should “seriously consider” the need for a supervised consumption site in the province and the government will look at funding for it in the next budget.

Mercredi said his group will keep pushing the province for money to run the drug consumption site.

“There is significant cost-savings with a safe consumption site … and when we can show that through independent research, we’re going to be coming hard and heavy after that funding.

“It’s unacceptable that this is being put on the community.”

— By Stephanie Taylor in Saskatoon

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 16, 2020

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2020