The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) has openly criticized the province’s decision to suspend funding for certain harm reduction measures.
The union said earlier this week that it is “gravely concerned” with the province’s new direction.
“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,” SUN said in its release. “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.”
On Jan. 18, the Government of Saskatchewan announced it would cease to support programs providing a safe supply of pipes to inhale drugs.
New regulations will also require needle exchanges to operate purely on an exchange basis – meaning used needles must be returned before new ones are provided.
Saskatchewan’s Mental Health and Addictions Minister said the move is meant to provide a “clear and consistent” message from the province.
Experts remain divided over Saskatchewan’s move away from harm reduction and towards a more recovery based strategy.
Sun argues that the provision of sterile drug smoking materials is a harm reduction practice that is backed by evidence that shows it prevents infectious disease transmission.
“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research has demonstrated that restricting needle exchanges to one-for-one strategies through policy is an outdated and ineffective practice for addressing substance use and puts communities at elevated risk for harm,” the union said.
SUN pointed to Saskatchewan’s nation leading HIV infection rate and its potentially record setting drug toxicity death toll in 2023.
The union is calling on the province to rescind its decision, commit to funding an “evidence-based and comprehensive reduction strategy” that should complement treatment and recovery approaches, as well as commit to building and funding evidence-based strategies to better assist those with mental health concerns and/or addictions.
— With files from Keenan Sorokan and Josh Lynn.