SEIU-West represents workers who work in Community-Based Organizations (CBOs), like addiction treatment centers, and frontline healthcare providers across the province of Saskatchewan. As such, SEIU-West is gravely concerned about recent cuts to harm reduction services.

Saskatchewan already has the highest HIV-AIDS and Hepatitis C rates in Canada (six times the national average) and this restriction on the distribution of safe, sterile supplies will cause our infectious disease rates to further skyrocket. Most new cases of HIV-AIDS and Hep C are contracted as blood-borne infections, many transmitted through needles sharing among users.

The goal of harm reduction is to reduce the harmful health consequences of risky behaviours, such as substance use. The harm reduction model meets people where they are and doesn’t require sobriety in order to access services. The overwhelming benefits of harm reduction have been determined by two decades of research and settled science. Harm reduction saves lives. People who use injection drugs are ordinary folks. They may have developed addiction while in hospital, or they may have other comorbid mental health diagnoses. Regardless of their story, our Union respects the right to live, thrive and survive for all Saskatchewan people.

In 2018, the Scott Moe government introduced new funding for harm reduction initiatives, such as a clean needle exchange, and tools for getting users off injection drugs and onto less hazardous methods of use such as pipes for inhalation. Earlier this year, the SaskParty Government cut that funding.

On April 2, it was reported that the government would not invest any money in harm reduction services. Instead, they announced an investment of $400,000 in the hospitality industry. That same amount of investment would allow the harm reduction site in Saskatoon to operate at full capacity for one year. Instead, that money is being allocated to a sector that has the ability to make money and turn a profit.

SEIU-West stands in solidarity with Prairie Harm Reduction in Saskatoon and The Newo-Yotina Friendship Center in Regina, the only safe consumption sites in Saskatchewan. More importantly, SEIU-West stands behind the people who have previously had access to quality harm reduction services and may now have no supports available to them.

This decision by the Scott Moe Government will have disastrous results, and is based firmly in political ideology, not twenty years of medical research. More people will die as a result of this lost funding. SEIU-West implores the Government of Saskatchewan to immediately reverse its cruel, unscientific, short-sighted, and ultimately disastrous cuts to harm reduction services in this province.

Barbara Cape and Jae Blakley are frontline healthcare workers.


Links for sources referenced in this op-ed:

'There is no safe use': Sask. government defends decision to restrict harm reduction measures | CTV News

Province Provides $400,000 to Hospitality Saskatchewan to Grow the Workforce | News and Media | Government of Saskatchewan

Sask. continues to lead Canada in HIV transmission, posts record infections in 2021 | CBC News

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