Regina’s chief of police says a number of factors can influence overdose statistics for a given month.
In Regina, a collectively held breath may be the initial response to a set of statistics showing a drop in overdose events in February.
Whether a deadly wave has crested and begun to recede, or the decline is simply an anomaly in the midst of a crisis is yet to be seen.
Presented during the Board of Police Commissioners’ meeting at City Hall on Tuesday, the stat package indicates that for the month of February, police documented 99 drug overdose events, down from 141 in January.
In February, police recorded eight apparent overdose deaths, each one a tragedy, but the figure represents just over a third of the 23 deaths recorded in December of 2021 — a grim bookend for a year wherein a record 160 apparent overdose deaths in the city were recorded.
Regina Police Service Chief Evan Bray said there could be a lot of factors that contributed to the decline in numbers.
“Some of it could be actions that are happening in the community through harm reduction,” Bray told commissioners.
“It could be availability of drugs in the community, or even sometimes just the toxicity of the drugs that are here, and the effects that they’re having on people that are consuming them.”
He went on to say that in 2021 “there was a bit of a rollercoaster effect” in terms of the fluctuation in overdose statistics, with some months seeing much higher numbers than others.
Indeed, recorded apparent overdose deaths per month ranged from six to 23 throughout 2021, which saw an average of 13.3.
The current average for 2022 is nine.
“We know that we’ve lost more people, probably, to overdoses than we did to COVID, here in the city,” Regina Mayor Sandra Masters told the media following the meeting.
But she too was left to hypothesize somewhat about the cause for the partial reprieve in overdose events.
She said she’s aware that the number of people accessing a safe consumption site have increased “significantly,” and she pointed to a no drug use policy within shelters, especially during a February cold snap, as having potentially contributed.
But she was cautious about the decrease, saying statistics will need to be continuously monitored to understand the effectiveness of outreach and programming.
Harm reduction advocates have voiced concerns that if measures they deem to be successful don’t produce positive, tangible statistics within a given timeframe, finding funding can be difficult.
When this was put to her, Masters maintained the importance of data.
“There’s nothing wrong with drawing correlations,” she said.
But she feels tackling the issue may take time and tenacity.
“I think it’s important to look across the country at best practices and what’s working where, and being courageous enough to kind of actually lead in terms of funding some of that.”
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