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2023 the 2nd deadliest year for drug overdoses in Regina: police

Regina Police Service chief Farooq Hassan Sheikh says his officers deal with drug toxicity on a daily basis.  (Alexander Quon/CBC - image credit)
Regina Police Service chief Farooq Hassan Sheikh says his officers deal with drug toxicity on a daily basis. (Alexander Quon/CBC - image credit)

Last year was the second-deadliest on record for drug overdoses in Regina.

According to data released by the Regina Police Service (RPS), there were 151 apparent drug overdoses in the city in 2023.

That's less than the record set in 2021, when 164 apparent overdose deaths were reported, but more than the 118 recorded in 2022.

RPS has only been collecting apparent overdose statistics since 2018.

Farooq Sheikh, Regina's new chief of police, said after a board of police commissioner's meeting on Tuesday that his officers deal with the reality of drug toxicity every day.

However, he said, that doesn't' mean RPS is equipped to solve the problem.

"I think it's extremely challenging for the police service," Sheikh said. "The overdose rates have gone up and, you know, my staff do their best to get there to try and support and try and help, but it's difficult because with overdoses there's not a lot we can control as the police service."

LISTEN| Could changes to Saskatchewan's needle exchanges cause more harm than good? 

Sheikh's explanation echoes comments made by his predecessor Evan Bray, who during his time as police chief repeatedly said the justice system is not equipped to help those dealing with addiction.

Instead, Bray pointed to the need for a more robust health care and social services system.

Saskatchewan has continued to grapple with a drug toxicity provincewide.

Data from the Saskatchewan Coroners Service indicates there were 484 confirmed and suspected drug toxicity deaths in Saskatchewan in 2023.

Depending on how many of the 193 suspected drug toxicity deaths are confirmed, that total could surpass the record set in 2021, when there were 404 deaths — the highest number of deaths in publicly available data, which dates back to 2010.

The province recently announced a plan to further transition to a "recovery-oriented" system of care for illicit drug use in the province.

The change means the province will stop provide clean pipes to smoke drugs and literature on how to use pipes safely, and third parties will also not be allowed to use provincial funds to do so.

Saskatchewan's Ministry of Health is also requiring needle exchanges to receive used needles before providing clean needles.

The move drew criticism from an expert and a front-line worker, who said the policy shift will set back efforts to stop the transmission of HIV/AIDs and flies in the face of decades of science.

LISTEN| Public health professor on province's changes to distribution of clean pipes and needle exchanging: