Current Problems

Health (18-24)

Record-breaking year looms for drug toxicity deaths in Saskatchewan: coroners service report

November 15, 2023

Health experts say prevention measures needed, while province focuses on treatment

Person injects drug into arm with needle in the shadows.
Harm-reduction experts, including paramedics and doctors, say provincial funding needs to also go toward the prevention of drug overdoses, instead of solely on treatment efforts. (Shutterstock)

CBC News: Emile Gariepy didn’t have to look at the Saskatchewan Coroners Service’s latest report to know drug toxicity deaths continue to rise across the province.

As a paramedic and the harm-reduction manager at Regina’s Nēwo-Yōtina Friendship Centre, which houses a safe consumption site, he sees the grip the opioid crisis has on people living with addictions. “They’re all human beings. They all cry. They all have terrible days and they still have good days as well,” Gariepy said in an interview with CBC News.

“We’re not protecting their lives, so they’re just dropping like flies.”

The coroners service recorded 395 confirmed or suspected drug toxicity deaths between Jan. 1 and Nov. 2. That’s 27 more than in all of 2022, and a dozen shy of the total in 2021 — the deadliest year on record for these fatalities in Saskatchewan.

According to the report, most of the people who died were Indigenous men in their 30s who used fentanyl. Six children or teens — people in the 10 to 19 age group — also died after taking opioids.  At 88, Regina has seen the most confirmed drug toxicity deaths this year, followed by Saskatoon at 47 and Lloydminster at eight.

Click on the following link to read all the tables included above:

Province focuses on treatment over prevention

The Opposition NDP brought forward the rising drug toxicity deaths in the legislature Tuesday. “It’s happening at a rate of more than one person a day in our province right now,” NDP Leader Carla Beck told reporters after question period. “These are Saskatchewan people, these are families who are forever changed when they lose someone to addictions.”

Last month, the Saskatchewan government announced an action plan for mental health and addictions. It aims to create 500 new treatment spaces and a central intake system by 2027-28. The plan doesn’t include funding for harm-reduction efforts.

When asked about the latest numbers from the coroners service, Health Minister Everett Hindley pointed to that plan. “Treatment and recovery is paramount,” he said. “By and large, I would say that people who are struggling with addictions are looking for treatment. They’re looking for recovery and they’re looking to turn their lives around.” However, Beck said the province’s current plan doesn’t consider the accounts of front-line health-care providers or families who have lost loved ones to addictions.

“We’re on pace to set another terrible milestone in this province,” she said. “It’s simply not working.”

WATCH | Sask. on track to see record-breaking year for drug toxicity deaths:

Sask. on track to see record-breaking year for drug toxicity deaths”: Duration 2:18

The Saskatchewan Coroners Service recorded 395 confirmed or suspected drug toxicity deaths between Jan. 1 and Nov. 2. That’s 27 more than in all of 2022.

Click pin the following video to view the video:

‘You can’t save a life if they’re dead’

While Gariepy welcomes more treatment spaces, he says prevention measures — such as safe consumption sites, which mostly run off of municipal funding — also need to be prioritized. “We’re only looking at the end game and we’re only looking at rehabs when we should be looking at people who are currently using [drugs],” Gariepy said. “You can’t save a life if they’re dead. How are you supposed to put someone in rehab if they’re dead?”

Man in blue surgical face mask and black clothing, including black backwards baseball cap.
Emile Gariepy, a paramedic and the harm-reduction manager at Regina’s Nēwo-Yōtina Friendship Centre, says he would like to see the province fund efforts to prevent drug overdoses, such as safe consumption sites.(Adam Bent/CBC)

Dr. Peter Butt, a long-time Saskatoon family physician who’s dedicated his career to addiction medicine, said the province needs to be thinking about “upstream approaches” that include both prevention and treatment.

“It’s twofold; it’s not either or. This is a continuum of care,” he said. “We should be able to provide people with a clear pathway to recovery, just as we do with cancer or any other condition. It’s rational, it’s person-centred and it continues until they’re in remission.”


Jessie Anton, Journalist

Jessie Anton is a Regina-based journalist with CBC Saskatchewan. She began sharing stories from across the province on television, radio and online in 2016, after getting her start in the rural weekly newspaper world. Email her at

With files from Adam Hunter