• Fri. Jul 1st, 2022

At least 9 former Camp Hope residents have died of drug overdoses since closure: organizers

ByDebra J. Aguilar

Mar 22, 2022

Nearly 10 former residents of Camp Hope in Regina have died of drug overdoses since the camp closed according to camp organizers, who add that only one resident has died of an overdose at the camp in 39 days.

They say the alarming and tragic rate, considering the camp was constantly staffed with volunteers trained in the use of naloxone, should serve as justification for provincial funding of safe consumption sites.

“Since the camp was closed, I believe it’s been 126 days to date, and we’re actually hitting double digits. I can’t confirm ten, but definitely nine,” said Payton Byrne, who made volunteering at the camp for most of the time it was operational.

“The second we closed we were getting messages in our group of ‘this person died, this person died’ just because we weren’t there.”

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The organizers retain the identity of deceased persons to protect their privacy.

According to the latest report from the Saskatchewan Coroner’s Service, there were 446 suspected drug-related deaths in Saskatchewan in 2021, which would make it a banner year if all deaths are confirmed. Fentanyl was the most frequently identified toxic substance in coroner’s inquests.

Drug use is not permitted in the temporary indoor shelter set up in Regina in the wake of Camp Hope.

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So far, despite multiple requests, the province has refused to directly fund supervised consumption sites, such as Saskatoon’s Prairie Harm Reduction.

Byrne argues that, if money is a concern, policymakers should consider the hidden costs of a protracted addiction crisis that she says she experienced firsthand after helping save a naloxone patient who had overdosed last Friday.

“We were told that in the hospital, when someone overdoses, they sit in the waiting room until two o’clock. During this time their paramedic will have to sit with them until one o’clock,” she said.

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“That’s an hour of paramedic time. When looking at your budget, look for safe supply and consumption sites and you won’t have to pay for your paramedics to sit in a hospital.

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Asked about the idea on Monday, Mental Health and Addictions Minister Everett Hindley didn’t say whether or not the province would fund safe consumption sites in its next budget, but did outline the overdose crisis and the harm reduction as a top priority for the government.

“We know that from the statistics we’ve seen and some of the findings of the drug task force. You talk to emergency personnel and paramedics and they report that a lot of the calls they answer are in private residences,” Hindley said.

“So that’s the challenge, and it’s not just in Regina and Saskatoon, we’re doing it in rural and remote communities and in First Nations communities, so we’re going to look at all of our options, but again , we are doing our best to provide these supports as we can to as many people as possible across Saskatchewan.

Trent Wotherspoon of the Saskatchewan NDP said Monday his party supports government funding for safe consumption sites.

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The provincial budget is due out on Wednesday.

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Byrne says, however, that supervised consumption sites are only part of the solution to preventing fatal overdoses.

She believes that Saskatchewan’s income assistance rates are not high enough and that housing security is an important part of helping people deal with substance use disorders.

A recent study conducted in British Columbia reports that “people who use drugs and who are unstablely housed are disproportionately affected by a growing overdose crisis” and that “the continued implementation and evaluation of new Overdose prevention interventions in housing should be a public health priority”.

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She says she would also like to see the province explore safe supply combined with supervised consumption sites and housing initiatives.

“When you have a safe supply, you can test the drugs before you give them to people so you don’t give them mixed drugs,” she said, citing cannabis and alcohol as examples of abuse. safe supply already applied.

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“Second, you can have an area where, just like Camp Hope, people are surrounded by their peers or people who care, where they can sit down and have conversations. And, if something happens, there are people there who can help.

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