Drug problem worsening in small centers and rural areas of Saskatchewan: RCMP
Last year was a record year for overdose deaths in Saskatchewan.
The Saskatchewan Coroners Service announced this week that 464 people died of confirmed or suspected drug overdoses in 2021, compared to 327 in 2020 and 179 in 2019.
In Regina and Saskatoon alone, there were a total of 172 confirmed drug overdose deaths in 2021.
However, while many of the deaths in the province are occurring in the province’s two largest municipalities, the growing number of deaths reported in smaller centers and rural areas is cause for concern.
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One community worried about the increased amount is Yorkton, Saskatchewan.
St. Sergeant. Burton Jones took over as Detachment Commander of Yorkton RCMP Detachment in July 2021.
In an interview with Global News, Jones said the detachment has been called in for five confirmed fentanyl overdose deaths since becoming detachment commander.
In the same time frame, he added that there were at least 10 instances where RCMP members used Narcan to revive a person.
Jones said fentanyl has become a major problem in the city and region.
“I think it’s more of a problem or a problem here than we suspect,” he suggested. “It’s become very cheap and very easy to get your hands on, and because of that it’s become a very popular drug in and around this region.”
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That’s not the only contributing factor to the overall problem, according to Jones.
He said many in the community don’t know or realize that synthetic opioids are creating societal problems in their own neighborhoods.
“The problem with fentanyl is that it’s so dangerous as a drug because it’s 100 times more potent than, say, morphine,” Jones explained. “A small amount is enough to kill someone.”
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Jones mentioned that he recently met with Yorkton City Council to discuss the seriousness of the drug situation in the community.
Even city council members weren’t ready to hear the kind of impact drugs are having on their municipality.
“It was quite a surprise and shock for us to learn of this,” Yorkton Mayor Mitch Hippsley said. “We always suspected it was here, but we had no idea how heavy it was here.”
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2021 another dark year for drug overdoses in Saskatchewan
Hippsley thinks the community awareness factor is key to knowing how to tackle the problem in a city with a population of around 18,000.
“It’s something we hear happening in big cities, so you want to pretend it’s not happening here, but it’s migrated here and become a bigger problem,” he said.
“When we find out that we have had five (overdose deaths) in the last six months, per capita, you end up with somewhere between 11 and 12 in a year in a city our size. So are we concerned? Absolutely, we are worried.
Hippsley hopes that improved communication and community efforts can help reduce the number of overdose deaths — and possibly reduce the amount of drugs on the streets — in and around the city.
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Jones pointed out that fentanyl is also present in rural and remote areas of Saskatchewan.
Colleen Larocque, a resident of Spy Hill, a village about 100 kilometers southeast of Yorkton near the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border, lost her 29-year-old son, Mitchell Sveinbjornson, to a a drug overdose on August 22, 2020.
The night he died, she told Global News, he went out with a group of friends and eventually went to buy some cocaine. However, the toxicology report showed that fentanyl and carfentanil were present in the drugs he took.
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Sveinbjornson had two daughters as well as six siblings.
“They build these drugs out of whatever they can get their hands on,” Larocque said of the drug suppliers.
“There have been a number of overdoses in rural – very rural – Saskatchewan over the past year with people you wouldn’t expect.”
Larocque said she understands the drugs were purchased somewhere in the Yorkton area based on what the investigation determined, but there are still questions about where her son obtained them.
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She said some things she would like to see more of in rural communities are drug test strips and detox or rehab beds.
“Accessibility in this province is very poor,” commented Larocque.
“As a community through COVID, we’ve worked so hard on mental health issues that our overdose numbers shouldn’t be climbing where they are. It’s definitely not getting better. »
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Larocque suggested that parents of teenagers or young adults in their family keep a naloxone kit at home and learn how to use it.
“You might not need it for your child, but you might need it for his friend. You never know,” Larocque said.
“My kids all have kits in their homes now, whether they’re users or not. At least they have the ability to save someone if the opportunity arises.
— with files by Nathaniel Dove
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