Saskatchewan's first safe consumption site still to open without provincial funding
Published Tuesday, June 16, 2020 4:30PM CST Last Updated Tuesday, June 1, 2021 11:49AM CST
AIDS Saskatoon executive director Jason Mercredi at the in-progress safe consumption site in 2019. (Saron Fanel/CTV Saskatoon)
SASKATOON -- A harm-reduction organization planning to open Saskatchewan's first supervised drug consumption site says without provincial funding it will have to reduce operations.
AIDS Saskatoon, which supports people living with AIDS, HIV and hepatitis C, had requested $1.3 million from the province to open the site around the clock 365 days a year.
Executive director Jason Mercredi said the province told the group before the COVID-19 pandemic hit that it wouldn't be getting the full amount, but there would be some money for two case managers.
On Monday, the province tabled its budget with no money for operating the drug site.
"We're still disappointed," Mercredi said Tuesday.
"We've seen since COVID hit, nothing but overdoses increase."
Mercredi said the group is still planning to open the site this year "come hell or high water."
However, without more provincial help, he said it will have to reduce planned staffing and hours so fewer clients will be seen.
The Ministry of Health said it will spend $435 million on addictions and mental health this year, including $1.4 million for a new crystal methamphetamine treatment centre in southern Saskatchewan.
"We had to set priorities. We just think right now, with the increase in addictions, that the focus for this year needed to be on treatment beds, on counselling, on medical supports," said Health Minister Jim Reiter.
Reiter said "we should seriously consider" the need for a supervised consumption site in the province and the government will look at that in the next budget.
"We think that the treatment beds, the counselling, the medical supports needed to come first."
Mercredi said his group will keep pushing the province for money to run the drug consumption site.
"There is significant cost-savings with a safe consumption site ... and when we can show that through independent research, we're going to be coming hard and heavy after that funding.
"It's unacceptable that this is being put on the community."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 16, 2020