SASKATOON -- The Saskatchewan Coroners Service is reporting more confirmed and suspected overdose deaths in the province so far this year compared to the last several years. 

The coroner’s report, which was released earlier this month, shows a record number of overdose deaths in 2020, saying there were 40 confirmed and 139 suspected overdose deaths in Saskatchewan between Jan. 1 and Aug. 6, bringing the total to 179.

That surpasses the total number of overdose deaths for all of last year and the years before that. There were 158 overdose deaths reported in 2019 and 171 in 2018, according to the report. 

“We’ve been warning the public about this for years,” said Jason Mercredi, executive director of Prairie Harm Reduction in Saskatoon. 

“It’s a record high and we still have half the year to go. The anger and frustration from ourselves, our board, our staff cannot be understated. Not to mention people we work with, they’re feeling completely abandoned during this pandemic.” 

The suspected overdose deaths are considered preliminary data and those numbers could change once the cause of death is confirmed, according to the report.

Mercredi said he’s noticed an increase in tainted drugs and overdoses, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The report found that opioid dugs like fentanyl, hydromorphone, methadone, morphine and acetylfentanyl were some of the causes of death. 

It also highlights that of the 40 confirmed overdose deaths this year, 17 were at least partly caused by methamphetamine toxicity. 

Mercredi said he’s been calling on the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) to track and report overdoses in real time on a monthly basis and show which communities they’re happening in. 

However, he said the SHA has told him they don’t have a “mechanism” to do that. 

“At this point it’s just pathetic, their response, when they’re saying that they don’t have the ability to or they just haven’t. They could easily make a mechanism and work on that but when we’re being told nothing but excuses, it basically sends the messages that they don’t view addictions as a health issue,” Mercredi said. 

Dr. Johnmark Opondo, medical health officer with the SHA in Saskatoon, said that reporting overdose deaths is a complex matter. 

In a statement, he said “Overdose surveillance is routine, ongoing, and systematic, with many checks and balances built in for validation of information (which takes time).” 

Opondo said information about overdose deaths is not obtained through the SHA. Instead, he said it goes through various organizations like the coroner and ambulance services. 

Prairie Harm Reduction is set to open the province’s first safe consumption site on Oct. 1 to help address the overdose crisis in the city. 

With the reported spike in overdose deaths, Mercredi said it shows just how much these sites are needed not only in Saskatoon, but also in Regina and potentially other jurisdictions.