Sask. supervised consumption site will be 'scaled back' after province denies funding
Jason Mercredi says current focus on pandemic planning; says health crisis emphasizes need of site
Saskatchewan's government has declined the province's first supervised consumption site's request for $1.3 million in funding said Jason Mercredi, executive director of AIDS Saskatoon.
"It's definitely a bump in the road," he said. "That would have paid for paramedics and support staff for 24/7, 365 days a year."
Mercredi said the presence of a pandemic doesn't mean the overdose crisis, the crystal meth epidemic or public drug use have stopped.
In fact, he said the added pressure for emergency crews and first responders already dealing with the increasing complications of COVID-19 highlights the need for a supervised consumption site.
Prior to the pandemic, emergency rooms, first responders and police were already "stretched thin" responding to calls related to people using drugs in an unsafe place or way, he said.
Supervised consumption sites operate on a continuum of care model and are critical to offering people a path to recovery, connecting them with programs, he said.
Mercredi said the site will still open but on a "scaled back" operating schedule.
"For 2020-2021, the Saskatchewan Health Authority received an additional $500,000 for harm reduction and AIDS Saskatoon received an additional $130,000," a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health in an emailed statement. "These funds will be used to support additional take home naloxone kits, safe inhalation supplies and additional case workers for AIDS Saskatoon."
The government said the budget includes an increase of $12 million for targeted mental health and addiction services and an increase of $19.3 million, primarily for increased use of hospital-based mental health and addictions services.
Mercredi said the current focus is getting clients through the pandemic.
AIDS Saskatoon is working with dozens of partners to create a support plan for the most marginalized people through the pandemic, while keeping staff and volunteers safe for the long-term.
"The pace of this as people know is changing day by day and hour by hour," he said.
Meanwhile, services like addiction support groups or face-to-face meetings are being scaled back because as clients and staff practice social distancing.
Mercredi said the precaution is to slow the spread of the virus, but noted it could lead to more relapses.
"Their addictions aren't going to go away just because there's COVID-19 in the community," he said.
Mercredi actually thinks the "drug use is going to get ramped up."
Most of their clients don't have the option of a safe-space to isolate or social-distance.
"They're going to be staying at gang houses; they're going to be staying at derelict properties that are abandoned because they don't have anywhere to go."
Mercredi said the province did offer up AIDS Saskatoon $130,000 in the 2020-21 budget, which will pay for two new case management positions.
He's hopeful these employees can help them navigate the uncertainty of the next several months.