It was an incident that launched a thousand signatures.
When Rebecca Beattie walked into the Subway restaurant on Broadway Avenue in Saskatoon, she was expecting to enjoy some time before grocery shopping with her four-year-old son. Instead, she witnessed a man preparing to inject drugs while they sat in the next booth.
“I told him he needed to get out — that I was sitting with my son eating,” she explained. “We exchanged brief words and he was pretty visibly shaken; he was like, ‘I didn’t want him to see this.’”
It led to an uncomfortable conversation with her son that he is much to young to truly understand, she said.
Now, through a petition, Beattie is advocating for a safe consumption site with a centralized treatment facility in Saskatoon so the man, and others like him, can have a warm, safe space and access to treatment options. Such a facility would not only keep drug users safe, it would protect the public, she says.
As of Friday afternoon, her online petition had about 1,000 signatures. She has collected many more in person, spending evenings on the streets with a physical copy of the petition. People have shared their opinions and stories of struggle, loss and recovery, she said.
“I talked to everyone from family physicians to Terror Squad members. I was talking to one very well-versed couple and two Terror Squad members come up to us with their bandanas up to their eyes. I asked them if they had a second and they pull the bandanas down and one says, ‘I’ve been waiting for treatment for three years.’ So that’s what keeps me going, I think we all know somebody — we’ve all lost somebody — to this.”
Having lost her mother to an opioid addiction, Beattie knew an important first step was to reach out to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health. Though she sent them her story, with a set questions addressing the need for a safe consumption space, she has still not received anything but an email stating that a response would be “forthcoming” from Health Minister Jim Reiter.
Beattie said she was rather annoyed by this response. If Reiter has time to issue statements to the media, he should also have taken the time to address her concerns, she said.
In an emailed statement to the StarPhoenix, Reiter noted that recently Health Canada changed its application process for safe injection sites to allow third-party funding and to remove provincial government approval as a requirement to set up a safe injection space.
“If the Ministry of Health were to receive a request for funding, the Ministry of Health and health care professionals with expertise in this area would need to assess drug use patterns, drug use culture, and the concentration of people who use injection drugs in that community,” Reiter wrote.
“It seems like (Reiter) is saying he wouldn’t mind (a safe consumption space,) but he doesn’t want to do the footwork for it,” Beattie said. “Organizations and experts have been advocating on this for so long and they’re tired. Why I’m doing this is to give them a platform because they are coming to me — I’m not an expert and I’m not a researcher but I’ll do that footwork.”
Even though provincial approval isn’t required to open a safe consumption site, Jason Mercredi, executive director of AIDS Saskatoon, said it would be “foolish” not to involve the provincial government.
“Minister Reiter has been the best health minister I’ve had to deal with, ever,” he said. “I think they’re going to ask good questions — hard questions — that need to be answered.”
Over the last year, the province has implemented harm reduction initiatives that have seen huge success, including the deregulation of naloxone kits, the addition of universal coverage for HIV and Hepatitis C medications and the introduction of safer smoking supplies, Mercredi noted.
The biggest hurdle to opening a safe consumption site is funding, Mercredi said, though he added that while it might seem like an expensive investment, in the long run it would save taxpayers money.
“We have to make sure that whatever happens it’s the most cost effective model that’s available,” Mercredi said. “But the cost savings are there to avoid hospitalizations, to avoid incarceration and to save on public safety.”
Mercredi and Beattie hope it’s only a matter of time until safe consumption spaces are introduced in Saskatchewan.
Addiction will only continue to fuel public consumption of drugs — especially inside places like malls and restaurants as the weather grows colder, Mercredi said.
“If we don’t see a change, incidents like this will just become more and more prevalent,” Beattie added. “And not just instances of public contamination, but instances of people dying due to lack of access.”
Article published: December 10, 2018