The overdose crisis in Saskatchewan

June 1, 2021

Last year, 336 people in Saskatchewan died from overdoses, a 182% increase from 2017.

Source: Saskatchewan Coroners Service

Overdose deaths
In Sask., 2017-2020

Source: Saskatchewan Coroners Service

A bar graph. 2017 = 117 deaths. 2018 = 171 deaths. 2019 = 177 deaths. 2020 = 336 deaths.

During the first four months of this year, 138 people died from overdoses.

If the current rate continues, more than 400 people will die in 2021.

Source: Saskatchewan Coroners Service

Meet Katrina from Regina. Her mother died from a fentanyl overdose in 2020.

The drug supply in Saskatchewan has become increasingly contaminated with fentanyl.

A synthetic opioid, fentanyl is 50-100 more potent than morphine and many times more potent than heroin.

A vial labelled "heroin" holding a considerable amount of powder and a vial labelled "fentanyl" with a few grains of powder.

A lethal dose of heroin compared to a lethal dose of fentanyl. (NHSP Forensic Lab)

In 2017, fentanyl was present in 13% of overdose deaths in Saskatchewan.

In 2020, fentanyl was present in half of overdose deaths in the province.

Source: Saskatchewan Coroners Service

One of the best ways to reduce overdose deaths: supervised consumption sites.

A large room with individual stalls, each containing a chair, a table, a sharps container, and an overhead fan.

The inside of Saskatchewan's first supervised consumption site in Saskatoon.
(Prairie Harm Reduction)

A supervised consumption site is a clean, safe space where people can use drugs in the presence of trained staff.

Positive outcomes:

  • reduces risk of accidental overdose because people are not rushing or using alone

  • reduces spread of infectious diseases

  • reduces strain on emergency services

  • connects people to substance use treatment, social and health services, and housing services

From 2017 to 2019, supervised consumption sites in Canada received two million visits.

During that time:

  • Staff responded to 15,000 overdoses and medical emergencies, with zero on-site fatalities

  • Staff provided 70,000 referrals to substance use treatment, social and health services, and housing services

Source: Government of Canada

In October 2020, Prairie Harm Reduction opened a supervised consumption site in Saskatoon, the first in Saskatchewan.

Despite the overdose crisis, the Government of Saskatchewan has denied Prairie Harm Reduction's funding requests for the site, forcing the non-profit to fundraise to keep it open.

In May 2021, Newo Yotina Friendship Centre opened the first supervised consumption site in Regina.

While the provincial government provided a temporary exemption allowing the site to operate, it has not provided any funding.

Meet Curtis. A supervised consumption site in Surrey, B.C. kept him alive long enough to begin recovery.

Spenser Smith is a Regina-born writer, photographer, and former IV drug user.