Prairie Harm Reduction meets fundraising goal
But receiving government funding is still an unknown
Earlier this week, Prairie Harm Reduction (PHR), Saskatchewan’s only safe consumption site, publicly requested $1.3 million from the Saskatchewan Party to keep the site running and move to a 24/7 basis. Jason Mercredi, the executive director of PHR, had applied for government funding in 2020, but was denied.
This comes merely three days after Ryan Meili, leader of the Saskatchewan New Democrats, urged the Saskatchewan Party government to place more money and focus on harm reduction campaigns and safe consumption sites. Meili told the CBC that this is a problem that goes “beyond what partisan preference there is” and urges people to “look at the evidence.”
The deadliness of the opioid crisis is not unknown to the province. In 2019, Saskatchewan reported 172 fatal cases of drug toxicity deaths. In 2020, there were 377 – Saskatchewan’s deadliest year for overdoses on record.
However, the existence of PHR benefits the community in a variety of ways. While safe consumption sites may be primarily known for ensuring that drug users are monitored while consuming and are receiving drugs that are not laced with lethal substances, the benefit of these sites creates ripple effects.
For example, a safe consumption site allows for the safe use and disposal of needles. Saskatchewan has the highest HIV rate in the country, and ensuring that users are not sharing and/or exchanging needles will further save lives.
Despite the lack of government funding, the community has been rising to the challenge to fund the site. In 2020, when the site requested funding in order to open, private community donations allowed the center to open on October 1, 2020. The donations not only helped maintain their space, but also helped hire a full-time medical staff member to remain on site while open.
Again, in 2021, PHR is in the midst of another fundraising campaign and has finally surpassed their $80,000 goal. In their official Facebook post, PHR specifically thanked the Kinsmen Club of Saskatoon and the Okihtcitawak Patrol Group for helping them reach their goal.
PHR has said themselves that fundraising, merchandise sales, donations, and support from the community have been helping the site bring in steady revenue. However, support from the government would allow the site to remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This would allow staff to offer around-the-clock care to users instead of limiting their support to specific “work day” hours.
Additionally, PHR offers free naloxone kits. Naloxone is a medication that counteracts the effects of opioids in the system. If a drug user is suffering from the effects of a drug overdose, naloxone can help counter the effects, oftentimes saving lives.
Not only does PHR have these kits on hand for users who enter their site, but they also offer free kits for people to take home. Their website notes that training for using naloxone takes “10-15 minutes.” A certificate is also distributed after training.
The need for safe consumption sites is clear, and the demand for them is rising more and more each day. The community has uplifted and supported PHR even when the government has not. As Scott Moe said on his campaign trail in 2020, “we need to continue to invest” when it comes to the opioid crisis. Now, it’s time for us to see those investments happen.