Regina committee pushes wellness plan and overdose prevention amid high drug toxicity deaths
Regina’s community wellness committee voted unanimously in favor of a wellness plan that would address issues like substance use in the city. The plan will now be submitted to City Council for final approval.
Drug toxicity incidents increased in the province during the pandemic. The committee’s recommendation follows a report from Saskatchewan coroners indicating that as of November 3, there had been 161 confirmed drug-related deaths and 202 more suspected deaths so far in 2021.
In 2020, there were 314 confirmed deaths.
On Wednesday, committee members reviewed the community safety and well-being plan, which would require the city to pay about $ 1.38 million.
This would include $ 75,000 for an overdose prevention strategy and the first installment of $ 500,000 in annual harm reduction funding distributed through a grant program.
The remaining $ 800,000 would be used to establish a governance plan and staff support for an office in charge of the plan.
The plan recommends short- and long-term goals, including the development of a community action table to address the overdose prevention strategy, prevent and reduce the harms of substance use, increase education on drug use, substance use and reduce the stigma associated with it.
The plan also addresses other issues such as domestic violence and food insecurity.
Felix Munger, executive director of the Canadian Municipal Crime Prevention Network, predicts that the plan will reduce police use over time, as demonstrated by other municipalities with similar plans.
Substance use in Regina is a ‘big deal’
The Regina Police Service was involved in drafting the plan.
Substance use is a big problem in Regina, according to Evan Bray, chief of the Regina Police Department. He said the statistics show it is worse in Regina than in Saskatoon.
There were 81 confirmed drug toxicity deaths in Regina in 2021, compared to 42 in Saskatoon.
“We have to deal with it aggressively,” Bray said.
He said that means agencies are working together to fight it. He said the problem should be seen from a health perspective and the police should be seen as support.
One method is the decriminalization of certain drug possessions, a proposal of the welfare plan to which the police department collaborated. Bray said he said he was proud of this part.
“But that can only happen when you’ve put in place supports and services at the provincial level and even a level of community organization ready to step in,” he said.
“So instead of charging, we’re going to tie them to that support and service… if those supports and services aren’t in place, decriminalization won’t do anything.”
Bray said there was “aggressive work going on” to tackle substance use and harm reduction – a critical part of the plan he says is in its infancy in Regina.
Now that the committee has voted in favor, the plan will be submitted to city council for discussion.
Com. Bob Hawkins said the plan was “critically important” and asked for a reasonable amount of time to review.
The committee asked the clerk’s office to book a special council meeting in November to discuss the plan.