Saskatchewan

The pandemic within a pandemic: Regina's overdose numbers skyrocket through 2020

By March, the Regina Police Service had already responded to more drug overdoses than it had in the entirety of 2019. Things haven't slowed down since then either.

Police, health authority aware of 432 drug-related overdoses, 33 deaths in Regina this year

By March of this year, Regina had already matched the number of overdoses recorded for all of 2019. (CBC)

Tania Klyne is trained to administer Narcan — a life saving drug that can reverse an opioid overdose — and though she says she never expected to use that knowledge, she did so last Monday.

Klyne is a volunteer with Queen City Patrol, a group that bills itself as a clean-up crew that removes drug paraphernalia and donates clothing, soup and coffee to people on Regina's streets. As part of her training to become a volunteer, Klyne learned how to administer Narcan. 

On June 22, while Klyne was letting her dog out, a young woman who she knew ran up and asked if she had a Narcan kit. 

Klyne started volunteering with Queen City Patrol, where she received her Narcan training, in February of this year. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

She went to an apartment on the 1900 block of Halifax street where a person was overdosing. When she arrived she said someone was already on the phone with 911 seeking help. 

"I told them that I had my Narcan training and that I would be administering Narcan to the gentleman and that I had to check and see if he was breathing," Klyne said. 

Working with the 911 operator, Klyne determined the man required one vial of Narcan, then a second vial, which she administered. EMS, firefighters and police then arrived on scene.

Klyne said the man wasn't responding to any of the emergency personnel, who had to administer two more vials of Narcan in stronger doses than what she had in her kit. Eventually, she said the man came to. 

'Pandemic within a pandemic' leaves 33 dead

Overdoses are rapidly rising in the Queen City as Saskatchewan and the rest of the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this year Regina Police Service chief Evan Bray declared the drug overdose situation a "pandemic within a pandemic" in an interview with CBC News.

At last week's board of police commissioners meeting Bray shared more up-to-date overdose statistics, and things are still grim. 

"Overdoses right now, reported to police and the health authority, is 432, [with] 33 deaths," Bray said, and that includes 35 instances where officers used Narcan.

By March, the city had already matched it's overdose total for the entirety of 2019. 

Monday represents day 173 of 2020, meaning that overdose numbers provided at last Thursday's board of police commissioners show about 2.5 overdoses per day are happening in Regina — that police and the health authority are aware of. 

Making a difference she couldn't before

When it came time to use her kit, Klyne said she felt confident because she knew exactly what she needed to do and didn't hesitate to administer her Narcan.

"It was a good feeling, that I actually was able, with my training through Queen City Patrol… to actually be able to help administrate things and save a person," Klyne said, later adding that saving someone's life left her with a sense of pride. 

Klyne figures had she not had a Narcan kit, the man would likely have died — a sad feeling she's all too familiar with.

She said her husband died from an overdose 10 years ago and she knows what it feels like to not have access to something that could have saved his life. 

Safe injection site sought for Regina

Patty Will, the co-founder of Queen City Patrol, said she hopes that Klyne's interaction where she had to use Narcan is a one-off.

Klyne's experience is eerily similar to an incident reported in Saskatoon earlier in June by CBC News. 

AIDS Saskatoon said a man nearly died of an overdose within steps of where the organization resides in the Bridge City. Staff became aware of the man's presence when they were handing out bagged lunches on June 18.

He died twice, but was saved by AIDS Saskatoon staff, who administered Naloxone three times before being taken to hospital.

The overdose took place just days after AIDS Saskatoon learned it would not be getting $1.3 million from the provincial government to fund a safe injection site. 

The organization has since vowed to open its own safe injection site.

Will said she hopes to see a similar safe injection site in Regina, and she's had discussions with politicians from Regina about bringing an injection site to the Queen City. 

She toured a new site in Saskatoon in February and said it's something she really wants to see completed in Regina.

"To a point, I hope it puts me out of business," she said. "If we have a safe injection site, then we don't have to worry about, as much anyways, the needles lying around the streets that we do now."

'It's our newer generation that are overdosing'

Around 2:15 a.m. last Friday, Klyne and Will were at the 7-11 on Winnipeg Street and Victoria Avenue when people alerted them to a teenager who was overdosing. 

Klyne said she didn't have her Narcan kit on her at the time, but worked to keep the teen awake by talking to him. 

"Every time his eyes kept rolling back, [I would say] you need to stay with me, please, just talk to me," Klyne recalled. 

Before she even knew it, Klyne said EMS arrived on scene and treated the teen. Klyne said the teen chose not to go to hospital for further treatment.

Klyne said she herself is a recovering addict, and she sees the struggles with addictions on Regina's streets daily.

"I'm very concerned with the fentanyl and the crystal meth," Klyne said. 

"Our young kids are dying from it. It's our newer generation that are overdosing, more than anything. If we don't do something as a society we're not going to have another generation at this rate."

About the Author

Bryan Eneas

Reporter

Bryan Eneas is a journalist from the Penticton Indian Band currently based in Regina, Saskatchewan. Before joining CBC, he reported in central and northern Saskatchewan. Send news tips to Bryan.Eneas@cbc.ca.

With files from Jessie Anton

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