Saskatchewan launches new drug alert system

Feb 15, 2024

Saskatchewan initiated a new Provincial Drug Alert System in January, aimed to enable the Ministry of Health to improve coordination of the issuance of drug alerts and assist partner organizations with monitoring the toxicity of illicit drugs across Saskatchewan. As part of the initiative, drug alerts will be issued via text, email, and through the Alertable app, in addition to alerts currently posted by partner organizations at locations where services are provided.

New data from the Saskatchewan Coroners Service demonstrates that illicit overdose-related deaths were at an all-time high in the province in 2023, with 395 confirmed or suspected drug toxicity deaths between January 1 and November 2. It was also determined that the majority of the recorded deaths were accidental, and caused by substances including fentanyl. However, some of the deaths were also linked to xylazine, which can increase the risk of overdose and reduce the effects of the overdose-reversing treatment of naloxone.

 “We went to nearly 1,700 overdoses in 2023, so on average that’s working out to about five a day. This is an important initiative and it’s important for harm reduction and prevention,” said Chief Layne Jackson of Regina Fire and Protective Services in his interview with CTV News.

 Moreover, drug alerts will be issued by the Ministry of Health based on information provided by partner organizations including Saskatchewan Coroners Service, Regina and Saskatoon Fire Services, and drug checking sites in Saskatoon and Regina.

Specifically, the Saskatchewan provincial government states that alerts will be issued when partners report to the Ministry of Health the following situations:

  • More than expected number of individuals seen by paramedic, or in hospital, with an overdose over a short period of time;
  • Multiple severe outcomes (ICU admissions, deaths) over a short period of time;
  • Multiple overdoses in persons who use or live in the same area or location or who report use of a common substance;
  • Overdoses that are difficult to reverse with naloxone; and
  • Concerning substances in circulation that have the potential to cause harm or death.

“The goal of drug alerts is to increase awareness of the dangers of illicit drugs and the presence of other toxic substances that further increase the risk of overdose and death,” Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Tim McLeod during a meeting in Regina. “An important part of our message to people who have yet to walk the path to recovery is that there is hope for recovery, and there is help available through treatment.”

The alert system was created after the Government of Saskatchewan pledged funding of $90 million to a multi-year strategy to address the addictions and homelessness crisis in the province.

Furthermore, the strategy also involves funding additional addiction treatment beds, supportive housing, and emergency shelter spaces in both Regina and Saskatoon.