PRINCE ALBERT -- A partnership between Prince Albert police, Parkland Ambulance and the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) is offering addictions treatment to people incarcerated in police cells.

A senior police officer and paramedic will oversee the cells between 7:30 p.m. and 7:30 a.m. daily. According to an SHA news release, this will allow patients to be assessed, treated and taken to hospital in a timely manner, if needed.

Police Chief Jon Bergen said he hopes the project will help to lower the city’s overall crime rate.

"People that do suffer from different addictions will be desperate to fuel their addiction, and that could lead to theft and other things, so we do tie it to crime. We observe that. We know that to be real,” he said.

Bergen added that it will ensure medical emergencies are dealt with as quickly as possible, potentially preventing paramedics from haiving to treat that person later or have them go to the hospital.

“We believe that it’s going to take some of the pressures off the emergency department. The assessment that’s done here, the officer doesn’t necessarily need to take that person into the emergency department.”

The news release said the project is specifically for people struggling with crystal meth use and needing detox services.

Jennifer Suchorab, SHA director of mental health and addictions for the northeast, said health staff have noticed an increase in drug intoxication in the last two years.

Lyle Karasiuk, director of public affairs for Parkland Ambulance, said people struggling with drug or alcohol addictions might need more immediate attention if they have other chronic conditions, such as diabetes.

“It’s really important to have that care right then and there,” he said.

Karasiuk added that the project isn’t just about temporarily caring for people while they’re detained. With the addictions specialists through the SHA, he said people will be safely discharged and sometimes directed to follow-up care.

“My mind starts to think of these things and start to look at ‘What can we do more?’ I think once we get some traction in this, this project has the aims of expanding bigger.”

Karasiuk said effects of withdrawal can include psychosis and aggression. On the other hand, some people may initially appear stable, but need lifesaving treatment, he said.

The one-year pilot project began on May 1. It also ran for a few months in 2018.