Overdose crisis debated by party leaders

Moe would fund safe injection site

Regina – The leaders of the Saskatchewan Party and New Democratic Party were asked during the Oct. 14 leadership debate in Regina how they would deal with rising cases of drug overdoses.

One of the questions posed to the leaders noted that this year drug overdoses “are on track to kill more than double the number of people in COVID-19 impaired driving and car accidents combined. What will you do to immediately address this crisis and save lives?”

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NDP Leader Ryan Meili said, “We hear the stories of people who've lost sons and daughters. You know, these are not just numbers, not just statistics, these are people's lives. And as a dad, I feel that same fear. You try to raise your kids, you trying to help them make good choices, but you worry, what will happen? Crystal meth has made our streets less safe. Opioids are taking lives. And now we have a government that is talking about cuts. That's a bad idea, anytime. For right now, it's a dangerous, dangerous notion. Now is when we need to invest. That's why we're committed to supporting harm reduction to a crystal meth and opioid strategy and to bring in dedicated mental health and addictions emergency rooms, so people get the care they need.”

Sask. Party Leader Scott Moe said it’s a very important question that cuts across all lines in our society.

He said, “We have a $435 million mental health and addictions budget in the province, the highest it's ever been. It's up $30 million from last year, built on a $30 million increase the year before and that's going into things like detox beds, additional detox beds in our major centres. It's going into a crystal meth treatment centre in the community of Estevan. It's going into more addictions workers in our major centres. But we need to continue to converse. We need to continue to invest because, (as) Mr. Meili says, the drugs that are on our streets are deadly today. They are much more deadly than they were even just a few years ago.”

Meili said in his work as a doctor he has dealt with patients struggling with anxiety, crystal methamphetamines or opioids. He said, “We have to tell them, ‘We'd love to help, but you're going to be waiting three months, six months, a year and a half before you can get any care.’

“And we might as well be telling people, ‘We just don't think you're worth it. Go back and start using again.’”

Moe responded, “We are continuing to invest in urgent care centres in Saskatoon and Regina which will have a mental health and addictions component to those to ensure that we are increasing that continuum of care.”

Each of those centres will cost $15 million, Moe said, adding the NDP plan shows a lower cost which he called inaccurate. Moe said that 900 physicians and 4,000 nurses have been brought into Saskatchewan communities and facilities, “many of them new facilities.”

Moe countered, “The doctors and nurses that you have promised in your platform, with all due respect, Mr. Meili, don't even replace the doctors and nurses that left this province the last time the NDP at the opportunity to govern.”

Safe consumption site

Regarding a safe drug consumption site, Meili spoke of a mother who had lost her son to opioids, noting she had said, “You can't help people get off drugs, if they're dead.”

Meili added, “We need to make sure that people get away from drugs, that we do everything we can to support people to stop using. But also when people are using, that they don't wind up having an overdose, or getting HIV or hepatitis C. That's why we're committed to harm reduction, but also to making the investments in prevention, in early assessment, early treatment, and these dedicated mental health and addictions emergency rooms, so instead of getting sent away, as we see so often today, people get the help they need and deserve.”

Asked about funding a safe drug consumption site, Moe said, “We would consider the safe consumption site if we have the honor and return to form government on October 26th, and we would consider it alongside all of the other investments that we have made. And we continue to expand on to ensure that families, and family members that are experiencing drug and drug addictions, have the supports that they need. This is an investment that's in the works. It's an investment that needs to continue regardless of who is in government.”

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