The Saskatchewan government has once again left funding for the province’s only supervised consumption site out of the provincial budget.
“It’s our government’s job to protect everyone and support everyone, and it’s been clear year after year that people who use substances are not being cared for by our government,” said Kayla DeMong. , executive director of Prairie Harm Reduction (PHR), the organization that operates the Saskatoon supervised consumption site.
PHR tries to help those at risk of overdose, HIV and Hepatitis C. At the site, customers can use drugs with a paramedic present, access drug test strips and connect with other support services. The site does not provide medication to clients, but it does offer sterile equipment.
DeMong said PHR’s request for the government’s 2022-23 budget is the same as previous years: $1.3 million to provide 24/7 services in Pleasant Hill, a central neighborhood of Saskatoon. PHR also introduced models that would support fewer hours and require less money. The province said no.
Mental Health and Addictions Minister Everett Hindley defended the government’s decision to deny the site’s application.
He said the government has limited resources and funds other programs for PHR. Hindley also said the overdoses were not limited to “this particular area”.
“We’re hearing from people who are on the front lines, and from our managers who also deal with this, that 75% of the overdoses that they respond to, that paramedics respond to, that paramedics respond to, happen in residences.”
DeMong said PHR knows people are suffering across Saskatchewan. She said the province should provide more money and resources across the province, rather than classifying this as an one-or-one situation.
She said the government was unaware that around 500 people accessed the supervised consumption site more than 3,500 times combined in 2021.
“That’s quite a large population in this community, when you look at the population of drug users in and around our site. Five hundred people is a lot, and those 500 people are worth supporting. “
There was not a single fatal overdose at the site last year and only four overdoses in total. Elsewhere, 446 people are believed to have died of drug overdoses in Saskatchewan in 2021. This year, there are already 75 people believed to have died from drugs in January and February.
Hindley said the government would remain focused on providing “broader support” for addictions in Saskatchewan, then touted a new $650,000 hotspot program. He said this will allow the government to be “flexible” and “responsive” to specific communities, neighborhoods or areas facing drug problems.
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He suggested this could include sending out drug alerts, providing more Nalxone kits or dropping outreach workers into an area. He said the government’s aim was ultimately to connect people with support and treatment. The government has promised $2.1 million for new treatment beds in this budget, but it does not yet know where they will be.
Advocates like DeMong have long said that treatment beds don’t prevent people from dying. She said the province needs to fund the PHR site as part of a more robust overdose crisis strategy. If they don’t, she predicts another dark year for the province.
“We have already lost hundreds of people to overdoses in this province last year. This will continue to increase.”
DeMong hopes that PHR will continue to do its part with the help of the community. She said the site has been able to garner broad community support over the past 17 months.
“We will continue our fundraising efforts. We will continue our line of merchandise. We will continue to seek out these donations and engage our community where possible to help keep doors open on this site.”
Mayor says budget misses mark for mental health and addictions
The province increased its funding for mental health and addictions by $9.5 million in the 2022-23 budget. It is to lead $403 million for mental health and $67 million for addictions.
Of this new money, $8 million will be used to fund initiatives such as “counseling and treatment for Saskatchewanians, reducing the harms associated with substance use and advancing proactive prevention measures, particularly for young people”, and $1.5 million will be dedicated to “support the continued implementation of initiatives first committed in 2021-22.”
The total health budget for 2022-2023 is $6.44 billion.
Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark said he fears the budget will meet needs as his city grapples with growing addiction, mental health and poverty crises.
“It affects families, it affects neighborhoods. It affects many, many people in our community,” he said. “To see an $8 million investment out of a $6.8 billion budget, given the level of crisis we’re seeing in mental health and addictions, I was hoping to see a bolder move there. .”
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