Saskatoon doctor warns province could be headed down 'dark, lonely path' with addictions

A Saskatoon doctor is warning that the record number of overdoses in the province last year may not be an aberration.

2020 was worst ever for overdoses in Sask.

Preliminary findings from the Saskatchewan Coroners Service say 379 people died of drug overdoses in the province last year. (CBC)

Morris Markentin had a front row seat to the worst year ever for drug overdoses in Saskatchewan.

Markentin is a family doctor at the West Side Community Clinic in Saskatoon and is an expert in addictions.

"We're handing out naloxone kits at record rates and people are using them. I'm seeing new patients who are coming in for treatment, who have had to have Narcan nine times," he said Wednesday.

"So that's nine near-death experiences. That's unprecedented in our city or in our province. Usually one overdose in our lifetime is enough, but we're certainly seeing it exponentially change."

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

There were 177 total fatal overdoses in 2019.

Markentin spoke with Saskatoon Morning host Leisha Grebinski about the recent rash of overdoses at the Lighthouse Supported Living building — seven people were revived in a single January night — and how he sees COVID-19 affecting addiction services.

He's not optimistic about what is coming.

"There's a lot of competing resources in health. And sad to say, but addiction medicine is kind of the armpit of care," he said.

"I think there's always been things evolving and changing. It just hasn't been at the same speed as other illnesses or diseases. And that's mostly due to stigma. I mean, mental health and addiction stigma. As you know, we can have as many Bell 'Let's talk' days, but the stigma is still very real for this population."

Morris Markentin works at Saskatoon's West Side Community Clinic. (Rosalie Woloski\CBC)

The pandemic has made things worse.

Markentin said health resources are being used to combat COVID-19 and will continue to be funnelled in that direction, so he isn't confident there will be much in the way of new programming for addictions. He's concerned, "that we're going down a dark, lonely path for the next five years."

The pandemic is also isolating people with addictions, he said.

Social restrictions mean that people are losing the human connection with meetings, peer groups and the range of community-based organizations that offered services to people with substance abuse disorders.


Dan Zakreski is a reporter for CBC Saskatoon.