Saskatoon police, EMS warn of 'alarming' uptick in drug overdoses after 5 deaths in 5 days

The Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) and Medavie Health Services West say they’re seeing a “concerning” climb in drug overdoses in the city.

Police responded to 10 suspected drug overdoses within five days, between May 25 and 30. Five of those resulted in deaths.

Substances are confirmed through toxicology reports, but police said initial evidence at the scenes indicates fentanyl is involved.

“These numbers, though, are not a complete picture," said Supt. Patrick Nogier in criminal investigations.

“Public awareness campaigns have been successful in equipping businesses and households with Naloxone kits. While beneficial, if used and successful, these overdoses may not be tracked."

According to the Saskatchewan Coroner Service, the province had seen 36 overdose deaths in 2021 as of May 4. In 2020 there were a total of 269 and 2019 saw 177.

“Most of the people that are selling drugs on the street are not chemists,” Nogier said. “So when they start putting together different types of product that's available for sale, it can range in potency and that's what's causing a major concern here.”

Nogier says drug supples continued even though borders were closed during the pandemic and it’s become a widespread problem in Saskatchewan.

“I don't think we've gotten any closer to really understanding the impact of the of the pandemic and more specifically with respect to overdoses,” he said.

“It's definitely something that we need to work with our partner agencies on here and try and get a handle on it because we have witnessed some spikes and some recent activity that is very quite concerning.”

When it comes to drug suppression, Nogier says part of the suppression tactic is to focus on those supplying the drugs more so than the consumers.

“We know that it's very profitable, we know that people are making a lot of money out of it, and subsequently that money turns into harm in the community,” he said.

“We know that drugs are still coming into our community, we've had some very successful seizures over the last five to six months, but we're still seeing trends that are doing harm with respect to people using, and subsequently dying from usage.”

Another tactic is education.

“Getting in front of it and trying to be open and honest about the dangers associated to illicit drug use, and getting people to maybe think about a different perspective on it,” he said.

“How do we incorporate suppression tactics, harm reduction tactics, prevention, emergency management, data collection, how can that all come to the forefront to try and come up with a new model that can maybe be a little more successful than what we experienced in the past.”

For Medavie, paramedics have had 21 patients in less than a week, who have collectively needed 29 doses of Narcan to regain consciousness. They ranged from 23 years old to 73 years old.

“To put this into perspective, in May 2019, we had a total of 11 patients for the entire month that received Narcan. These numbers are very alarming to us,” said director of public affairs Troy Davies.

Davies said overdose mental health calls have escalated dramatically over the last 18 months.

“It's like Russian Roulette when you're taking drugs that are not from a doctor or prescribed from the pharmacy. A lot of this stuff is laced with fentanyl or other narcotics that some of it can’t be identified.”

Street drugs have also become more potent, he said.

“Five years ago when we give Narcan to one of these patients, it's one dose and we usually get them back and we’re transporting them, but now we're giving up to two, to three, and one patient we give eight doses, just to keep them oxygenated and breathing.”

According to the National Harm Reduction Coalition, Naloxone – also known as Narcan – is used to counter the effects of an opioid overdose.

Fentanyl is an opioid, used for treating pain, that’s similar to morphine, but is 50 to 100 times more potent.

Police are reminding the public that under the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, you can call 911 when another person is experiencing an overdose without facing criminal charges from drug possession.