Regina's first supervised overdose prevention site opens downtown

The Nēwo Yōtina Friendship Centre opened its overdose prevention site in Regina last week.

The Nēwo Yōtina Friendship Centre has been preparing to open site since December 2020

The Nēwo Yōtina Friendship Centre and overdose prevention site is located on the corner of 11th Avenue and Osler Street in Regina. (Germain Wilson/CBC)

The Nēwo Yōtina Friendship Centre opened its overdose prevention site in Regina last week.

Michael Parker, executive director for the centre, announced Tuesday that the site had a 'soft-opening' last Wednesday.

The site offers supervision to drug users who have already acquired drugs. Safe supplies, such as clean needles, will be available. The site will also provide emergency preparedness and early medical intervention if a drug user shows symptoms of an overdose.

Parker said the site, which is located downtown on the corner of Osler and 11th Avenue, has had three people access the service already.

"What's exciting about this is we're going to be the first overdose prevention site in Regina, the first in the province that went through the provincial exemption process," he said. "Also the first Indigenous organization in Western Canada to operate an overdose prevention site with supervised injection."

The site is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. CST and is closed over the noon lunch hour.

It also offers take home overdose treatment Naloxone kits and training on how to use them.

Parker said the site is specifically for adults who already use drugs. No minors or first time users will be allowed in the consumption area.

The objective is to reduce the number of overdoses in the community while also reducing blood borne illnesses such as HIV and Hepatitis C. The organization also aims to direct people who need social services such as housing support, cultural support and resolution support to the attached centre, which provides such services.

Overdoses in Regina

Parker said drug overdoses in the city have deeply affected many families.

"Having this service opened is just so imperative," he said

According to a May 4 report by the Saskatchewan Coroners Service, 114 people died of drug toxicity in Regina in 2020. So far in 2021, 22 people in the city have died of drug overdoses, the report said. 

The site has been officially recognized as an urgent public health site to temporarily address the increasing number of overdose deaths in the province. The province said the site has this provincial exemption in place until September.

"Our intention is to seek long-term exemption for a supervised consumption site and obviously we'll need to be seeking the funding to support that going forward," Parker said. "Particularly we're going to be seeking provincial support going forward."

Parker said the centre will need, at the bare minimum, an additional $50,000 to run the site from the end of September until March 2022.

The province said it is dedicating $2.6 million to harm reduction in this year's budget, an increase of $1.4 million from last year. The province said it is supplying the Friendship Centre with harm reduction supplies at no cost.

It said when the September exemption expires, the Nēwo Yōtina Friendship Centre will have to apply directly to Health Canada for federal exemption. The province has not said if it will provide the centre with further funding or supplies after the September deadline.

"Enhancing harm reduction services is an important step in increasing access to services that save lives and prevent disease transmission," the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

Trust building

Parker said the first few days of the site being open have been relatively quiet.

"We haven't had to do any overdose emergency response yet," he said. "This is really new for the city and I think there's sort of been an initial [question of], 'What is this? What's this about? Can we trust these folks?'

"It's really been sort of a trust building phase right now."

Parker said people will need time to get comfortable with the idea of using the service, as normally using drugs in a public space could get them kicked out and possibly arrested.

Parker said the site is anticipating 10 people per day to use the site, but he does not expect to see those numbers immediately.

"That's going to be that process of building trust within the community around this site and what it's about, because it is so different from what people have experienced before."