Health minister not convinced supervised injection sites could work in Saskatchewan

The issue of harm reduction was debated in the Saskatchewan Legislature Monday.

Jim Reiter says sites are typically found in large, dense cities

Saskatchewan's Health Minister says officials have voiced concerns about the effectiveness of supervised injection sites given the province's small but spread out population. (Craig Edwards/CBC)

The province's health minister says he's not convinced a supervised injection site would be effective in Saskatchewan when it comes to battling the problem of overdoses and overdose deaths. 

When asked about the government's plan for harm reduction in the legislature Monday, Jim Reiter said there were conflicting opinions about the sites 

Afterwards, Reiter went on to say that officials have indicated that Saskatchewan has a small and spread out population and generally, supervised injection sites are located in larger urban centres with more dense populations. 

"I'm not sure that there's been any examples across the country that there's safe injection in a small town of just a few hundred people," he told reporters on Monday. 

"In Vancouver, you can say it's downtown, but it's a large, large population."

'Apples to oranges'

Reiter said while the government is "open to discussion" on the issue, there is nothing on the horizon.

Instead, he explained the government spends money on other harm reduction initiatives like needle exchanges and recently expanded access to naxolone — a life-saving antidote to opioid overdoses.

He said equating a small rural area like Kamsack to downtown Vancouver is like comparing "apples to oranges". 

NDP says government unwilling

NDP leader Ryan Meili accused the government of being unwilling to explore all of the options. 

Meanwhile on Monday, a mother who lost her son to an opioid overdose called on the government to do more.

Marie Agioritis lost her son Kelly to an overdose in 2015. She now wants the governmen to do better when it comes to treating addictions and offering harm reduction approaches. (Craig Edwards/CBC)

Marie Agioritis' son Kelly died back in 2015, just after he turned 19. 

She says he thought was taking a half of an Oxycontin pill, but it turned out it contained fentanyl. 

"We didn't know that he was using drugs like that," she explained.

"It was quite a shock when he passed."

Mom says use pot money to fund harm reduction

While Agioritis acknowledged the issue of harm reduction as being politically sensitive, she said she wants the government to take more action.'

 "So there is a lot of work that has been done in Alberta and B.C.," she said. "Our government here, all they have to do is ask the questions."

She called for closing the gap between when someone leaves detox and begins a treatment program. She also wants to see earlier education on drugs in schools. 

As well, Agioritis said, recovery programs to treat addictions should be 90 days, not 30, and the government should take tax revenue it collects from the sale of legal cannabis to fund more harm reduction initiatives. 

As of Monday, ​a meeting between Agioritis and Reiter was in the works.