SUN is gravely concerned with the government of Saskatchewan’s decision to suspend funding for programs that provide safe drug inhalation supplies, while also placing limits on needle exchange programs.
The provision of sterile drug smoking materials is an established, evidence-backed harm reduction practice that prevents infectious disease transmission, including HIV and Hepatitis C, and reduces infections and overdose risk by encouraging alternatives to IV drug use. Furthermore, research has demonstrated that restricting needle exchanges to one-for-one strategies through policy is an outdated and ineffective practice for addressing substance use and puts communities at elevated risk for harm.
Saskatchewan continues to outpace the rest of Canada with the highest rates of new HIV infections in the country, according to the most recent data from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). The national rate for new HIV diagnoses for 2022 was 4.7 per 100,000 population, while Saskatchewan reported more than four times this rate at 19 new cases per 100,000 during this same period.
Tragically, drug toxicity deaths in 2023 might set a provincial record, according to data from the Saskatchewan Coroners Service as of Jan. 5, 2024.
Beyond the proven life-saving benefits of the harm reduction programs impacted by this new policy, the advantages for the broader health system are significant. The programs help mitigate the substantial costs associated with HIV and Hepatitis C treatments, while also reducing stress on already overburdened hospitals and emergency departments. Additionally, harm reduction helps SUN members connect with marginalized populations on a variety of other critical health issues that if left untreated for too long, may result in downstream strain on the health system..
“As a RN working in community mental health, being able to provide harm reduction supplies to clients was an excellent and effective way of engaging people in healthcare by connecting with them where they are at. This helped them build trust in the healthcare system and allowed me to engage on health issues unrelated to substance use, including mental health treatment, diabetes management, primary care needs, HIV/HCV treatment, STI screening and influenza and COVID vaccines,” Krystle, RN, Saskatoon.
As the provincial voice for registered nurses serving individuals and communities struggling with substance use, SUN is compelled to speak out.
We are calling on the provincial government to:
- Urgently and immediately rescind the decision to suspend funding for safe inhalation supplies and limit access to sterile needles.
- Commit to funding an evidence-based and people-centered comprehensive harm reduction strategy as complementary to treatment and recovery approaches across Saskatchewan.
- Commit to building and funding evidence-based strategies to better help people who are unhoused or struggling with mental health and/or addictions in Saskatchewan.