Saskatchewan

2023 the 2nd deadliest year for drug overdoses in Regina: police

The chief of the Regina Police Service says his officers deal with drug toxicity on a daily basis, but that they are not equipped to solve the issue of addiction.

151 apparent overdose deaths reported by the Regina Police Service in 2023

Regina Police Service chief Farooq Hassan Sheikh takes part in his first Regina Board of Police Commissioners meeting.
Regina Police Service chief Farooq Hassan Sheikh says his officers deal with drug toxicity on a daily basis. (Alexander Quon/CBC)

Last year was the second-deadliest on record for drug overdoses in Regina.

According to data released by the Regina Police Service (RPS), there were 151 apparent drug overdoses in the city in 2023. 

That's less than the record set in 2021, when 164 apparent overdose deaths were reported, but more than the 118 recorded in 2022. 

RPS has only been collecting apparent overdose statistics since 2018.

Farooq Sheikh, Regina's new chief of police, said after a board of police commissioner's meeting on Tuesday that his officers deal with the reality of drug toxicity every day.

However, he said, that doesn't' mean RPS is equipped to solve the problem.

"I think it's extremely challenging for the police service," Sheikh said. "The overdose rates have gone up and, you know, my staff do their best to get there to try and support and try and help, but it's difficult because with overdoses there's not a lot we can control as the police service."

LISTEN| Could changes to Saskatchewan's needle exchanges cause more harm than good? 
The provincial government has decided -- a needle for a needle. In order for people living with a substance use disorder to get a clean needle, they must provide a used one. The Minister says this will keep the broader community safe. Their goal is to put the emphasis on treatment -- and the journey to get OFF drugs. Today, we take a closer look at this approach, specifically, what impact it will have on rural and remote communities. We checked in with the Prince Albert Grand Council and the Scattered Site Outreach Program in LaRonge. We also had two doctors in Regina call-in to share their concerns with the recent change.

Sheikh's explanation echoes comments made by his predecessor Evan Bray, who during his time as police chief repeatedly said the justice system is not equipped to help those dealing with addiction.

Instead, Bray pointed to the need for a more robust health care and social services system.

Saskatchewan has continued to grapple with a drug toxicity provincewide.

Data from the Saskatchewan Coroners Service indicates there were 484 confirmed and suspected drug toxicity deaths in Saskatchewan in 2023.

Depending on how many of the 193 suspected drug toxicity deaths are confirmed, that total could surpass the record set in 2021, when there were 404 deaths — the highest number of deaths in publicly available data, which dates back to 2010.

The province recently announced a plan to further transition to a "recovery-oriented" system of care for illicit drug use in the province.

The change means the province will stop provide clean pipes to smoke drugs and literature on how to use pipes safely, and third parties will also not be allowed to use provincial funds to do so.

Saskatchewan's Ministry of Health is also requiring needle exchanges to receive used needles before providing clean needles.

The move drew criticism from an expert and a front-line worker, who said the policy shift will set back efforts to stop the transmission of HIV/AIDs and flies in the face of decades of science.

LISTEN| Public health professor on province's changes to distribution of clean pipes and needle exchanging: 
Saskatchewan provided clean pipes to drug users nearly six years ago. It was meant to help injection drug users transition away from using needles to the safer method of smoking. But that practice is no more. Saskatchewan will end the distribution of clean pipes. We talked to Barabara Fornssler a University of Saskatchewan professor from the School of Public Health. She researches substance use and harm reduction.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexander Quon is a reporter with CBC Saskatchewan based in Regina. After working in Atlantic Canada for four years he's happy to be back in his home province. He has previously worked with the CBC News investigative unit in Nova Scotia and Global News in Halifax. Alexander specializes in data-reporting, COVID-19 and municipal political coverage. He can be reached at: Alexander.Quon@cbc.ca.

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