Saskatoon

'We are done debating,' safe injection site organizer says after overdose victim's close brush with death

AIDS Saskatoon says a man nearly died of an overdose within steps of where the organization still plans to open a 24-hour safe injection site despite a lack of provincial operational funding. 

AIDS Saskatoon says a man nearly died Thursday after overdosing within steps of planned safe injection site

Jason Mercredi is the executive director of AIDS Saskatoon. (Don Somers/CBC)

AIDS Saskatoon says a man nearly died of an overdose within steps of where the organization still plans to open a 24-hour safe injection site despite a lack of provincial operational funding. 

"Today was a rough day," the organization tweeted Thursday alongside an open letter from executive director Jason Mercredi. 

"We are done debating the legitimacy of the safe consumption site. We are going to provide it," Mercredi wrote.

According to Mercredi, staff at AIDS Saskatoon's Pleasant Hill drop-in centre on 22nd Street W. were handing out bagged lunches when they became aware of a man overdosing behind the building. 

Staff quickly responded and saved the man's life, Mercredi wrote.

"The person died twice and came back both times thanks to the quick actions of our staff," he said. 

The man overdosed Thursday afternoon behind the AIDS Saskatoon building on 22nd Street W. (Don Somers/CBC)

According to the Saskatoon Police Service, officers responded to a call about someone possibly overdosing in the back alley shortly before 4 p.m. CST on Thursday. 

The caller said naloxone was being administered to the man before officers arrived, a police spokesperson said. Police were told that naloxone had been given to the patient three times by AIDS Saskatoon staff, "which resulted in a positive outcome and the male was transported by Medavie to hospital."

The police did not have details on the man's condition. 

The report of the overdose came just days after AIDS Saskatoon learned they would not receive $1.3 million in requested funding from the Saskatchewan government for the project.

The Ministry of Health said the budget did provide a $130,000 funding boost for AIDS Saskatoon, which would help pay for extra take-home naloxone kits, safe inhalation supplies and additional case workers.

Mercredi said the project would still happen on a reduced basis even without the larger requested funding increase. 

"I'm looking at our security camera right now and I'm watching people inject drugs in the alley behind the building," he said Tuesday.

The reported overdose happened two days later.

In his letter, Mercredi said the addictions crisis needs "the full spectrum of care" and welcomed new addictions program that he said will be rolled out later this year. 

In an interview on Friday, Mercredi called the whole experience "infuriating." 

"It was 50 feet from our front door," he said. "This should be inside the building, not out on the street where people can see it. The guy was doing drugs on a dirt patch, which isn't clean. Our staff were lucky that we were back there because if the overdose happened 20 minutes later, there's no way our staff would have seen and that guy would have died."

Health Minister Jim Reiter was asked Friday about the incident and the decision to not grant the money for a full-time safe injection site. He said AIDS Saskatoon does good work but the government had other ideas. 

"It's a question of where you put priorities over other priorities," Reiter said. "The mental health and addictions file is a big priority for the government. You saw $33 million added this year on top of about $30 million last year. We decided this year ... we need more addictions treatment beds in this province, we need more counselling, we need medial supports."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Saskatoon

Story tips? guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

with files from David Shield and Don Sommers

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