Sask. provincial task force to address fentanyl, opioid deaths

A new provincial task force is being created to address fentanyl and opioid deaths in Saskatchewan.

Group created as response to fatal overdoses

A provincial task force is being formalized by the Saskatchewan government to address overdose deaths from fentanyl and opioids. (Canadian Press)

A new provincial task force is being created to address fentanyl and opioid deaths in Saskatchewan.  

The task force, which the province says is currently being formalized, will be co-led by the Ministries of Justice and Health, with representatives from the education, social services and advanced education ministries.

Police and health experts will also be included, according to the province.

Although the task force is focused on addressing opioid misuse and overdose, the province said it will also "provide oversight" on other drugs, including crystal meth.

At least 51 opioid overdose deaths in 2016

Saskatoon Health Region addictions consultant Dr. Peter Butt, who is on the task force, said it was initiated last year as a response to the number of deaths from opioid overdose. 

"They recognized as well, with the reporting that was being done by the Office of the Chief Coroner, that there was a larger issue than had been previously appreciated with regards to opioid-related deaths," said Dr. Butt.  

According to the chief coroner's office, at least 51 people died of an opioid overdose in 2016. Fentanyl deaths in Saskatchewan are decreasing, with six in 2016 compared to 22 in 2015.

Earlier this month, Adria Bosshart died the day before her 19th birthday. She was one of three people who overdosed on fentanyl that weekend in Saskatoon. The other two overdoses were not fatal.

Distribution of Naloxone kits is among the measures being considered by a new provincial task force on opioids. (Grand River Hospital)

Group will be fiscally challenged, says doctor 

Dr. Butt said the new task force will consider treatment services, policing, trafficking and education. It will also look at the distribution of Naloxone kits, which can temporarily reverse the effects of fentanyl in an emergency.

He added that it would not only look at illegal trafficking but the sale of opioids as prescribed by physicians. 

He believes the task force is a good first step toward addressing the province's drug problem but there are still challenges.

"The frustration is that it's being done in the context of significant fiscal restraint so what we're going to be able to do remains to be seen in terms of practical outcomes," he said.

"But certainly this is a good start and if we can focus existing resources in a more appropriate way, that would be a good first step."

Get ahead of the problem, says mayor

Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark said on Thursday it was important to get ahead of the issue to prevent a crisis, like the fentanyl crisis in B.C., which left 922 people dead last year.

"It's not to the same extent but we have seen a number of deaths in our community, and for every death it has a huge impact on the lives and the families of those individuals," he told CBC Radio's Afternoon Edition on Thursday.

"We are concerned that we don't want to see this grow anymore."  

Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark says it's important to get ahead of the issue of fentanyl and opioids in Saskatchewan. (Albert Couillard/CBC)

Clark is one of 13 city mayors involved in the national Mayor's Task Force on the Opioid Crisis.

The task force was launched on Feb. 3 of this year by the Big City Mayors' Caucus of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Aside from the danger opioids pose to users, Clark said their misuse also has a broader effect in the community.

"[The addiction] can also bring somebody from living quite a normal life to being highly addicted and getting involved in crime and other things to feed their addictions, which creates all kinds of community issues and challenges to families," said Clark.

Mayors' task force calls for national reporting standard

On Thursday, the mayors' task force released its recommendations to address the opioid crisis.

It called on the federal government to create a new national standard for collecting, reporting and improving access to data about opioid overdoses and deaths.

Only two of the 13 cities on the task force — Vancouver and Surrey, B.C. — currently have access to monthly overdose data from local health authorities.

With files from CBC Radio's Afternoon Edition