Saskatoon

2020 a brutal year for fatal drug overdoses in Saskatchewan

The number of people in Saskatchewan who died of drug overdoses in 2020 appears to have doubled the 2019 total.

Preliminary findings by Coroners Service show fatalities more than doubled from 2019

Paramedics responding to a suspected overdose became a common sight in 2020. (Charles Hamilton/CBC )

It's cold comfort that the numbers are not yet official.

The preliminary findings from the Saskatchewan Coroners Service show that 379 people died of drug overdoses in the province last year. That total is 172 confirmed ODs and another 207 suspected.

There were 177 confirmed fatal overdoses in 2019.

"That's very concerning," Dr. Peter Butt, a consultant in addiction medicine with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said of the 2020 numbers.

The powerful opioid fentanyl was behind 80 of the confirmed deaths. 

Butt said there is no single cause of the spike in fatal deaths. Factors include availability of the drug, demand and the pandemic.

"You can't separate this out from what people are experiencing with the pandemic: the stress, the isolation, the challenges," he said in an interview.

Regina was the city hardest hit, with 82 confirmed deaths, followed by Saskatoon with 33. There were seven deaths in Yorkton, six in Prince Albert and three in Moose Jaw.

Butt said Regina's location may have been a factor.

"I suspect that it has to do with the distribution system," he said.

"It's on the TransCanada Highway. What we saw historically is Vancouver and B.C. being hit hard by fentanyl earlier on and then Alberta, Ontario. But now we're seeing stops along the way."

Butt also noted that Indigenous people, especially Indigenous women, are disproportionately represented in the confirmed deaths.

The numbers show 28 Indigenous women died, compared with 12 white women. Meanwhile 44 Indigenous men died, compared with 37 white men.

About the Author

Dan Zakreski is a reporter for CBC Saskatoon.

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