'They don’t want to stop people from dying': No new provincial funding for Saskatoon's safe injection site

The Saskatchewan budget released Tuesday denied funding to the Prairie Harm Reduction safe consumption site in Saskatoon.

The facility is a safe, clean place for people to consume drugs, under the supervision of staff who can offer social supports.

“It’s somewhere safe where you don’t have to worry about dropping dread,” a person with an addiction, who didn’t want to share his name, told CTV News outside the site.

“They’re making the cuts in the wrong places. Lives are more important.”

The site is open Monday-to-Friday during the day. It applied for three options of funding to expand its hours:

  • $1.3 million to operate 24/7
  • $900,000 to run until midnight
  • $600,000 to open in the evenings

All three requests were rejected.

“We’re clearly disappointed. The announcement doesn’t seem to make sense. The government’s own internal documents show funding us would save lives and save money,” said Jason Mercredi, executive director of Prairie Harm Reduction.

The province’s decision to not fund the facility comes as a record number of people lost their lives to overdoses last year – with more than 230 overdose-related deaths. Most were in Regina.

“The government will say the overdose deaths are a tragedy, that they’re doing all they can –- they are in absolute power. They could address this if they want to. This is a choice that was made by the government. They don't want to stop people from dying. They seem to be comfortable with record deaths,” Mercredi said.

“I guess the big question is, what does the (office) of Mental Heath and Addictions do?”

Saskatchewan’s finance minister, Donna Harpauer, says while no new money is going to the safe consumption site, it’s spending a record amount for other mental health and addictions programming – including youth-focused treatments and suicide prevention.

“We’re going to have more addictions treatment beds, which we think is very critical. There’s a lot of competing good ideas,” Harpauer told CTV News during a one-on-one interview.

“The Prairie Harm Reduction does receive funding from our government and that funding remains there, we just won’t see the increase that they’re asking for.”

The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) is disappointed with how the province is handling mental health and addictions spending.

“It’s a sprinkling of funding here and there, but we really need a huge investment,” SUN president Tracy Zambory said.

Zambory said safe consumption sites are paramount to tackling Saskatchewan’s opioid and addictions crisis.

“Safe consumption sites needs to be the spearhead of our concrete mental health and addiction strategy,” she said.

“It really is a place that people can come who have addiction issues, and we can start them down the road to recovery.”

With no new provincial funding, Prairie Harm Reduction said it’s relying on small businesses and public fundraising to keep its doors open.