Drug problem growing in smaller centres, rural areas of Saskatchewan: RCMP

Last year was a record year for overdose deaths in Saskatchewan.

This week, the Saskatchewan Forensic Service announced that 464 people died of a confirmed or suspected drug overdose in 2021, up from 327 in 2020 and 179 in 2019.

In Regina and Saskatoon alone, there were 172 confirmed drug overdose deaths in 2021.

However, while many of the county’s deaths occur in the county’s two largest municipalities, there are concerns about the increasing numbers being reported from smaller centers and rural areas.

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One community concerned about increasing the amount is Yorkton, Sussex.

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Saint Sergeant. Burton Jones assumed the post of Detachment Leader of the Yorkton RCMP Detachment in July of 2021.

In an interview with Global News, Jones said the detachment has been called to five confirmed fentanyl overdose deaths since becoming detachment commander.

In the same time frame, he added, there have been at least 10 instances where RCMP members have used Narcan to revive someone.

Jones said fentanyl has become a major problem in the city and region.

“I think it’s more of an issue or problem here than we think,” he suggested. “It has become very cheap and very easy to get, and because of that it has become a very popular drug in and around this area.”

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That’s not the only factor contributing to the overall problem, according to Jones.

He said that many in the community do not know or realize that synthetic opioids are creating societal problems in their neighbourhoods.

“The problem with fentanyl is that it is a dangerous drug because it is 100 times more powerful than morphine,” Jones explained. “A small amount is enough to kill someone.”

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Jones said he recently met with Yorkton City Council to discuss the seriousness of the drug situation in the community.

Even city council members weren’t ready to hear about the property’s impact on their municipality.

“It was a surprise and a shock for us to find out,” said Yorkton Mayor Mitch Hepsley. “We always suspected it was here, but we had no idea how heavy it was here.”

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Hepsley believes that the community awareness factor is the key to knowing how to deal with this problem in a city of about 18,000 residents.

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“This is something we hear happening in the big cities,” he said, “so you want to pretend it’s not happening here, but it migrated here and it’s become a bigger problem.”

“When we find out that we’ve had five (overdose deaths) in the last six months, on a per capita basis, you end up somewhere between 11 and 12 in one year in a city our size. So are we worried? Sure we are.”

Hepsley hopes that improved communication and community efforts will help reduce the number of overdose deaths – and eventually reduce the amount of street drugs – within the city and the surrounding area.

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‘A difficult task for all of us’

Jones emphasized that fentanyl is also present in rural and remote areas of Saskatchewan.

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Coleen Larrock, a resident of Spy Hill, a village about 100 kilometers southeast of Yorkton near the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border, lost her 29-year-old son Mitchell Svenbjornson to a drug overdose on August 22, 2020.

The night he died, she told Global News, he went out with a group of friends and eventually went to buy cocaine. However, the toxicology report showed that fentanyl and carfentanil were present in the medications he took.

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Svenbjornsson had two daughters with six siblings.

“They make these drugs out of anything they can get,” said Larocque of drug suppliers.

“There have been a number of overdoses in rural – very rural – Saskatchewan over the past year with people you never expected.”

Larroque said she understands that the drugs were purchased somewhere in the Yorkton area based on what the investigation identified, but there are still questions about where her son got them.

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She said two of the things she would like to see most in rural communities are drug test strips and detox or rehab beds.

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“Accessibility in this county is very poor,” Larroque commented.

“As a society through COVID, we have worked so hard on mental health issues that overdose numbers shouldn’t go up where they are. It definitely isn’t getting better.”

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Larocque suggested that parents who have teens or young adults in their family should keep the naloxone group in their homes and learn how to use it.

“You might not need it for your child, but you might need it for his friend. You just never know,” said LaRocque.

“All of my kids have kits in their homes now whether they are in use or not. At least they have the chance to save someone if they get the chance.”

— with files from Nathaniel Dove

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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