Saskatchewan is on track to reach a record high number of drug-related deaths from 2020, according to statistics released by the Saskatchewan Coroners Service.
The statistics show there were 172 confirmed drug toxicity deaths last year, however there are another 207 suspected drug deaths awaiting confirmation. If even six of those are confirmed, 2020 would become Saskatchewan’s deadliest year on record for drug overdoses.
In 2019, there were 177 recorded overdose deaths and in 2018 there were 171.
Fentanyl was the most deadly drug, causing 76 accidental overdose deaths. Acetyl fentanyl caused 62 deaths, while Hydromorphone caused 54.
Clive Weighill, the province’s chief coroner, said in the past the report only listed confirmed cases. This year, it included suspected cases as well to give a more accurate representation.
“A suspected case for us would be that one of our coroners would attend the scene and they may find drug paraphernalia there, people that were with the descendent said they took drugs, the person has a history of intravenous drug use or other drug use, so we feel pretty comfortable when we’re saying it’s a suspected case,” Weighill said. “At the end of the year we might be off by one or two cases, but by and large we’re going to be pretty close.”
He said the increase in overdose deaths has led to a much heavier workload for coroners.
“A lot of the people that are dying from drug toxicity don’t have any other medical history, so therefore we end up doing an autopsy,” he said. “We’ve probably done well over 200 additional autopsies this year.”
Weighill said the province saw a spike in overdose deaths in February, and since then the numbers have remained fairly consistent. Although it’s still early in 2021, he said there have already been overdoses reported.
“I would say the trend is holding true to what we saw last year,” Weighill said.
According to the report, Regina saw the most drug toxicity deaths in 2020 with 82 reported. Saskatoon followed with 33 drug related deaths.
In Yorkton, there were seven deaths reported and in Prince Albert there were six.
All other centres had three or fewer drug related deaths.
There were 43 women who died by accidental overdose in 2020 and 92 men.
Among women, 28 were First Nations, 12 were Caucasian, two were Métis and one is listed as unknown.
Among men, 44 who overdosed were First Nations, 37 were Caucasian, four were Métis, one was Asian, one was Black/African American and five were listed as unknown.
Some deaths were also listed as suicides. Five were female and two were male.
For Louise Watson, the recent overdose deaths are particularly difficult to hear about. In 2013, Watson’s sister died from overdose at 40 years old.
“I don’t think my mom was ever the same. I don’t think we’ll ever be the same,” Watson said. “I know so many parents and children who have lost loved ones. Overdose just changes you. People say get over it and you can’t get over it.”
A recovering addict herself, Watson said she has seen the ripple effects that her sister’s overdose has had through her family.
As Saskatchewan’s overdose deaths continue to rise, she can’t help but to think about her personal experience.
“In 2020, I think I spent half my time crying where I work,” Watson said. “I always tell people ‘don’t hate the addict, don’t judge them.’”
She said she wants people to remember that addicts are human.
“I think we need to be more community-based. I think we need to not come from judgment, I think we need to come from love,” Watson said. “We need to not give up because I think if someone gave up on me, I wouldn’t be here today.”