Users say Saskatoon's supervised consumption site will reduce harm, stress for people who use drugs

Some drug users in Saskatoon say a new safe consumption site approved for the city will make a difference in the lives of many, as it will help prevent the spread of diseases like HIV and offer a safer environment for people to use.

AIDS Saskatoon has received Health Canada approval to start operating 1st supervised site in Sask. next year

Monica Ermine, who is an active user of hydromorphone and crystal methamphetamine, says a supervised consumption site planned for Saskatoon will reduce harm and help ensure drug users in Saskatoon are safe. (Morgan Modjeski/CBC )

Standing behind Saskatoon's needle exchange on Thursday, a group of roughly 15 people have gathered to talk, socialize, use drugs and get clean needles.

Among them is Monica Ermine, who is among those who say a new supervised consumption site planned for the city will help reduce harm for people using substances like crystal methamphetamine and heroin.

An active user of hydromorphone and crystal meth, Ermine sits on her bike as she talks about how the supervised consumption site will not only help her do her drugs safely, but will also help her anxiety and stress levels, as acquiring the drugs is only part of the equation.

"It's just an overall relief when you have a place to go and you don't have to worry about someone knocking on the door or getting kicked out of establishments," she said.

"Lots happens when you don't have a place," she later adds.

Last month, AIDS Saskatoon announced it has received approval from Health Canada to operate a Saskatoon supervised consumption site starting next year — the first such site in Saskatchewan. Planned to open in the Pleasant Hill neighbourhood, it will offer a safe place for people to use drugs via injection or other methods.

AIDS Saskatoon executive director Jason Mercredi says the group will be working hard to inform people about the supervised consumption site through word of mouth, as many clients already using the AIDS Saskatoon drop-in space and services have deep connections to the community.

The group says the site will be a key factor in combating the crystal meth, opioid and HIV epidemics.

The Saskatoon site will offer a safer place for people to use drugs via injection or other methods. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

At 40 years old, Ermine says her own addiction has caused issues around self-confidence and self-esteem, as she would always be beating herself up. She said knowing a consumption site is coming, she's getting ready to start pursuing her goals, as she feels the site will remove many of the obstacles between her and what she wants to do.

"It should have happened a long time ago," she said. "Unfortunately, a lot of lives are lost now because of that, but at least at the end of the tunnel, they did something right in the end."

Ermine isn't the only person in the area who feels the site will change lives. Walking his bike down 20th Street, Thomas Hastings said he hasn't used drugs for more than three years, after roughly 30 years of using.

Had the supervised site been operational when he was using, he says, he would have used it — and it could have prevented a lot of harm.

Thomas Hastings, who has been off drugs for more than three years, says a supervised consumption site would have helped him when he was using. He says the Saskatoon site will be beneficial as he's seen too many of his friends and family suffer because they don't have a place to go. (Morgan Modjeski/CBC)

"I believe it's going to be beneficial," he said. "It's gotta be. I'm tired of seeing my own friends and relatives have to go through a lot of negative things on the street if they don't have some place safe to do it."

Hastings said the site will also reduce the spread of HIV and other diseases.

"Now, when I look back, I probably wouldn't have contracted hepatitis C," if there had been access to such a site, he said.

Tanis Sapp, who has been doing intravenous drugs for more than 15 years, said she feels the site will help keep people safe.

"I found it pretty interesting and awesome," she said of the proposal. "A lot of people come around into back alleys and stuff where anything could happen. They could overdose and there'd be no one there to help them." 

For her, the consumption site is more than a safe place.

"It actually shows that someone is caring and that someone is out there and wanting to help users like me."