Opioid deaths down in Sask., but local advocate says the fight isn't over

Data released by the Office of the Chief Coroner indicates that there have been 15 deaths involving opioids between January 1 and July 4 this year signalling what appears to be a downward trend from 2017 when there were 63 deaths in the whole year.

6 people have died from hydromorphone and 4 from fentanyl so far this year

Despite a downward trend in opioid deaths, a local advocate says the fight is not over. (Ho/The Canadian Press)

The Chief Coroner's office says 15 people in Saskatchewan died from opioid use between January 1 and July 4 this year.

The numbers seem to indicate a downward trend for opioid deaths. There were 95 deaths in all of 2015, 84 in 2016 and 63 in 2017. With 15 confirmed deaths six months into the year, deaths in the province would need to triple to be close to 2017.

Despite the dip in opioid deaths year-after-year, a local advocate who lost her son to a fentanyl overdose says the fight isn't over.

Opioids still a 'considerable' problem

Marie Agioritis, a leader with the advocacy group Moms Stop The Harm, says there is still a crisis.

"The downward slope does not imply that we still don't have a considerable drug problem in Saskatchewan, which we know that we do across the country," said Agioritis.

"We are grateful if people aren't dying ... that's one part of problem, to keep people alive."

A string of deaths in Saskatoon in March highlighted early this year that the crisis is far from over.

Three people died of suspected fentanyl overdoses after using what police believe was cocaine laced with the powerful opioid. 

Police belive all of the deaths are related to the same batch of cocaine laced with fentanyl. It is not clear if these deaths have been confirmed and included in the coroner's report.

The report says the statistics for 2016, 2017 and 2018 are preliminary given that not all investigations have been completed.

The report also says the number one killer this year has been hydromorphone with six deaths, followed by fentanyl with four.

'In 20 minutes, he was gone'

Agioritis found herself thrust into the world of opioids in 2011 when she found out her oldest son was addicted to the dangerous drugs. But, she says that's not the "real tragedy of her story."

In January 2015, Agioritis went away for the weekend and left her 19-year-old son Kelly at home alone for the first time. 

She said Kelly went to his brothers apartment where he experimented with opioids. That night, Kelly took half of a pill.

He was fine. 

The next morning, while at home with one of his friends, he took the other half.

"In 20 minutes, he was gone," said Agioritis.

"In that moment I knew that if it was taking my younger son — when it was my eldest that was addicted — we were in for one hell of a ride."

Agioritis said a switch went off in her head after that and she joined the Mothers Stop The Harm group to advocate for harm reduction strategies and to stop the stigma around opioid addictions.

"Nobody can recover from addiction if they are dead," she said.

"We want to give people an opportunity to recover and we need to change the stigma to help our kids live and not die."

'Game of Russian Roulette'

While she still believes there is work to do, Agioritis says the decrease in deaths in the report properly reflect the efforts advocacy groups have made to bring awareness to opioid issues.

"I believe the efforts to get out and educate through the school systems, through police service, through health regions has made a difference," she said.

"Kids are clueing in that these are drugs you can't play with...And It's a Russian Roulette game if you're going to."


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