Budget day in Saskatchewan brought about an increase in mental health and addictions services, but provided nothing for safe consumption sites.
The Saskatchewan government said it’s looking to reduce harms associated with substance use and take proactive measures for youth.
Saskatchewan Finance Minister Donna Harpauer increased mental health and addictions funding by $9.5 million in Wednesday’s budget, creating total annual funding of $470 million towards services.
“We all know someone who has experienced mental illness or addiction,” said Health and Addictions Minister Everett Hindley.
“Continuously improving the services and supports we provide remains a top priority. This budget will further enhance the availability of treatment, access to harm reduction services and supplies, and prevention initiatives with a special focus on children and youth.”
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The government is earmarking $2.1 million as part of the first year of a three-year commitment to add 150 addiction treatment spaces across the province.
It also plans to give $800,000 to expand mental health school programs, $500,000 towards the police and crisis team (PACT) and $255,000 of new funding for Saskatchewan’s Rapid Access Counselling Program in eight different communities across the province.
Another $200,000 will support pharmacies in the Take Home Naloxone Program and to increase available naloxone, and $475,000 towards improving access to detox services.
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“While significant progress has been made with the support of record investments in recent years, we recognize that there is more work to do,” Hindley said.
“This budget responds to concerns we’ve heard about the barriers created by wait times for detox and treatment while also ensuring harm reduction services and supplies are efficiency and effectively offered to Saskatchewan people regardless of where they live in the province.”
However, there’s no new funding for a safe consumption site, except for $310,000 going to Prairie Harm Reduction (PHR).
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The Saskatoon non-profit organization has asked the provincial government for funding, specifically for harm reduction, for three years in a row but has been denied each time.
Prairie Harm Reduction executive director Kayla DeMong says she’s disappointed.
“I don’t know if I actually have a word for how I’m feeling right now. More than anything, it’s just devastating,” she said.
“When I look at our stops from 2021, we supported just over 500 individuals in the safe consumption site.”
PHR said its 2021 year-end statistics show harm reduction programs are effective, with just over 3,500 consumptions taking place on-site, with only four overdoses and no fatalities.
“Without those services, they would be out using alone, using on our streets and our alleyways and their increase for not only death, but the increased risk for HIV transmission, hepatitis C transmission, abscesses, all of those things hugely increase when they use outside of the site.”
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According to the Saskatchewan Coroners Service, 464 Saskatchewan residents died in 2021 due to overdose, with 61 of those in Saskatoon and 111 in Regina.
This was a large increase compared to 2020 when 327 people died, and 2019 when 179 died.
“I think it’s a continued lack of balance and understanding of what support (is needed) for people that use substances is in our community. Again, just like we’ve seen with other years, huge focus on treatment, with very little consideration for keeping people alive,” DeMong said.
Since Regina’s Camp Hope shut down in November, nearly 10 former residents have passed away from drug overdoses. When it was open, just one resident died.
The camp was consistently staffed by volunteers trained in the use of naloxone, which should serve as justification for provincial funding of safe consumption sites.
DeMong says this isn’t going to stop them from trying to raise enough money to do it themselves.
“It’s something that will definitely drive us forward. We’re not going to stop doing the work that we’re doing, and we’re not going to stop pushing for the services to be available in our community,” she said.
“We will continue to do whatever we need to do to keep our doors open and to make sure that we have the staffing support on-site for the people that are accessing our building.”
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