Saskatchewan

Regina committee pushes well-being plan, overdose prevention amid high drug toxicity deaths

A city committee supported a well-being plan that would address substance use and other issues in Regina.

Regina Police chief says substance use big problem in city

There have been at least 81 drug toxicity deaths in Regina in 2021 — substance use is a serious issue in the city according to Regina Police Chief Evan Bray. (Matt Duguid/CBC)

Regina's community wellness committee voted unanimously in favour of a well-being plan that would address issues like substance use in the city. The plan will now go to city council for final approval.

Drug toxicity incidents have increased in the province during the pandemic. The committee's recommendation comes in the wake of a Saskatchewan Coroners Report saying that, as of Nov. 3, there were 161 confirmed drug-toxicity deaths and another 202 suspected deaths so far in 2021. 

In 2020, there were 314 confirmed deaths and another 16 suspected.

On Wednesday, committee members considered the Community Safety and Well-Being Plan, which would require the city to put up about $1.38 million. 

That would include $75,000 for an overdose prevention strategy and the first instalment of an annual $500,000 for harm reduction funding doled out through a grant program.

The remaining $800,000 would establish a governance plan and staff support for an office in charge of the plan.

The plan recommends short- and long-term goals including developing a community action table to address the overdose prevention strategy, preventing and reducing the harms with substance use, increasing education about substance use and reducing the stigma associated with it. 

The plan also addresses other issues like domestic violence and food insecurity. 

Felix Munger, the executive director of the Canadian Municipal Network on Crime Prevention, anticipates the plan will reduce reliance on police over time, as demonstrated in other municipalities with similar plans. 

Substance use in Regina a 'big problem'

The Regina Police Service was involved in the drafting of the plan. 

Substance use is a big problem in Regina, according to Evan Bray, Chief of the Regina Police Service. He said that statistics show it's worse in Regina than Saskatoon.

There have been 81 confirmed drug toxicity deaths in Regina in 2021, compared with 42 in Saskatoon.

"We have to aggressively deal with it," Bray said.

He said that means agencies collaborating to combat it. He said the issue should be viewed through a health lens and that police should be considered support. 

One method is decriminalization of some drug possession, a proposition in the well-being plan that the police service collaborated on. Bray said he said he's proud of that part.

"But that can only happen when you've got supports and services in place at a provincial level and even a community-based organization level that are ready to step in," he said. 

"So, instead of charging, we're going to link them to this support and service … if those supports and services aren't in place, decriminalization is going to do nothing."

Bray said there's "aggressive work being done" to address substance use and harm reduction — an essential part of the plan that he said is in its initial stages in Regina.

Now that the committee has voted in favour, the plan will proceed to city council for discussion. 

Coun. Bob Hawkins said the plan was of "critical importance" and asked that it be given a reasonable amount of time for consideration. 

The committee has asked the clerk's office to set aside a special council meeting in November to discuss the plan.

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