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Home News Saskatchewan mayors and tribal councils call for better collaboration and more support services to fight drug addictions and overdoses

Saskatchewan mayors and tribal councils call for better collaboration and more support services to fight drug addictions and overdoses

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Saskatchewan mayors and tribal councils call for better collaboration and more support services to fight drug addictions and overdoses
(Herald file photo)

Tribal Council leaders called for a better statistical understanding of the addictions cycle, and provincial mayors called for more community buy-in and reduced stigma in a survey released by the Saskatchewan Drug Task Force on Thursday.

Praxis Consulting Ltd. conducted 15 focus groups, six interviews with key leaders, and tallied results from 177 survey respondents to gain more information about what is and isn’t working when it comes to reducing addictions in Saskatchewan.

Praxis collected the information between September and October 2021. The report outlines a number of areas for improvement. Among them are calls from Tribal Councils for more funding for research data, more money to expand programs that are working, and more support from other levels of government to provide housing, food, jobs, and culturally safe spaces for those trying to kick their substance abuse issues.

“People are trained to help, but not enough money is available to fund programs or purchase buildings,” reads a section of the report outlining concerns raised by Indigenous leaders. “Instead of putting money into reactive services that are not yielding results, money should be redirected to programs that are preventative and embrace the Indigenous approach.”

Tribal council leaders noted an over-representation of Indigenous people in child and family services, youth homes, and correctional facilities. They said breaking the cycle of addiction is vital to addressing these issues, but a lack of Indigenous representation on committees and in organizations makes it challenging to do so.

Indigenous leaders also cited the inability to curb gang activity as a hindrance to reducing drug and alcohol abuse.

“Improving coordination of services, durability of treatment for individuals, and providing a continuum of care will help individuals avoid returning to the situation they were in before,” reads the report.

City mayors surveyed and interviewed cited the importance of community buy-in as a major factor in reducing addictions. The report noted that the public has a negative perception of harm-reduction programs due to “discarded needles and meth pipes” and because clean-up is “significant and existing program staff cannot always keep up.”

That leads the public to avoid the area due to public safety concerns, while also pushing back against programs that work.

Many mayors also cited a spike in homelessness as a major driver of addictions, something they blamed on the Ministry of Social Services for sending cheques directly to clients instead of portions to landlords.

“Evictions, including evictions from municipal housing, are increasing. Mayors observed that mental health and addictions make it difficult to support clients with complex needs,” the report reads. “Returning to the previous system of paying rent to landlords will help provide more housing stability.”

Many mayors said drug addiction ought to be treated like a health issue rather than a criminal justice issue. This means increasing the number of beds in drug treatment centres, and preventing youth from entering drug culture by providing healthy recreational activities and programs in the evening.

Tribal leaders told Praxis they thought harm reduction services, needle exchange clinics, safe houses, tribal council health buses, and homeless shelters were working well, but additional resources were needed. They also said the greatest successes occurred in areas where the SHA and the federal government collaborated with Tribal Councils.

Mayor’s said organizations that help addicts find stable housing are taking pressure off other community-based organizations. However, they also said cities need more of those types of organizations.

Leaders from both groups also said waitlists for detox, treatment and aftercare centres are too long, which makes it difficult to coordinate with other services.

Many leaders also expressed support for decriminalizing drugs, which includes providing a safe supply and offering harm reduction services.

Saskatchewan Mental Health and Addictions Minister Everett Hindley said the government was developing a work plan based on feedback given in the report.

“We recognize the urgent need to address addictions and overdoses in our province, and we are committed to finding solutions to meet these challenges,” Hindley said in a media release.

“This is not simply a health, police, or mental health issue,” he added. “It will take everyone working together to address is.”