Crosses planted on Sask. legislature lawn as call for government action on addictions

Ret Brailsford says he hasn't lost anyone close to him to addiction yet, but he wanted to do what he can to encourage the provincial government to take action, even if that means shaming them by putting the crosses on the legislature lawn.

Harm reduction sites need funding to operate 24/7, advocate says

Crosses were planted in front of the Saskatchewan legislature building on Saturday morning. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

Dozens of crosses lined the front lawn of the Saskatchewan legislature building on Saturday morning — part of a harm reduction advocate's effort to call on the government to address the rising number of overdose deaths in Saskatchewan.

"I hear from neighbours and friends, and you see on Facebook, that one day this crisis will walk in through your doorstep," Ret Brailsford said.

"My actions today are kind of about getting this [addressed] before it walks in my doorstep." 

Brailsford said he's studied harm reduction and engaged in discussions with his professors and with people who suffer from addiction, but he stepped forward as a spokesperson for the Regina Harm Reduction Coalition on Saturday. 

He says he hasn't lost anyone close to him to addiction yet, but Brailsford wants to do what he can to encourage the provincial government to take action, even if that means shaming them by putting the crosses on the legislature lawn.

Regina alone saw more than 1,000 overdoses and 111 overdose deaths in 2020, and according to a recent report from the Board of Police Commissioners, those numbers are still increasing in 2021.

Brailsford said the simplest solution to Saskatchewan's overdose crisis is funding harm reduction sites, like Prairie Harm Reduction in Saskatoon, or the Regina site that's operating through the Nēwo Yōtina Friendship Centre.

He said they need to be operating 24/7, year-round, and need to be funded adequately to do so. 

Brailsford also called for the decriminalization of drugs across Saskatchewan. 

"That's proven to save lives and it's socially, economically good policy," he said. 

He says it's better policy for the government to spend money on supporting existing harm reduction programs to help prevent emergencies, rather than spending money on emergency response measures. 

Brailsford said he doesn't see the overdose crisis as a political issue as it's something that affects all communities in Saskatchewan. 

Ret Brailsford says he wants to see more provincial government action around overdoses and more support for harm reduction facilities that exist in Saskatchewan. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

He encouraged people to talk to their family, friends and co-workers about addiction, overdoses and harm reduction as ways to break the stigmas that exist about the topics. 

Brailsford also encouraged people to contact their municipal and provincial politicians to generate as much support as possible for harm reduction measures in Saskatchewan. 

The provincial budget, tabled last month, did not include annual funding for Saskatoon's Prairie Harm Reduction. The local community responded and since fundraised over $180,000 to keep the site open.

Meanwhile, Regina's overdose prevention site launched in March, but executive director of the Nēwo Yōtina Friendship Centre told CBC News it is only meant to be a temporary measure to address the city's climbing overdoses. 

The Ministry of Health saw one per cent of its total budget dedicated to tackling addictions in the 2021-22 budget.

Sites not the only option: minister 

In an April interview with The Canadian Press, Addictions Minister Everett Hindely said supervised consumption sites are one way to tackle addictions and overdoses, but said other options are available.

Overdoses occur in Regina and Saskatoon, but the issue stretches to rural areas as well, Hindely said.

"How do you best deploy those resources across Saskatchewan to try and get prevention and treatment supports to as many people as you can, no matter where you live?"

Saskatchewan's government, he said, does fund harm reduction programs — and was looking to expand the free naloxone kit program, which puts the live-saving drug Narcan in people's hands.

The province is working to change the conversations and stigmas around drug use, he said.

"This is a provincewide discussion. It's why we're looking at provincewide solutions."

With files from Julia Peterson, Kendall Latimer and The Canadian Press