FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: National Organizations Deeply Concerned with Saskatchewan’s Health Policy Shift

People who use drugs will suffer the consequences of backward-thinking and restrictive policies 

January 26, 2024 | Two leading national human rights organizations have addressed the Saskatchewan provincial government to express profound concern over changes that restrict access to vital harm reduction supplies and safety information. The HIV Legal Network and the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition sent the letter yesterday, urging the government to reverse the changes and ground policy in evidence, human rights and best practice. 

On January 18, Saskatchewan’s provincial health ministry announced it would stop providing clean pipes and require people to exchange a used needle to receive a sterile one, as well as stop distributing education resources on safer pipe use practices. Third-party organizations would also not be permitted to used provincial funds for these purposes. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Tim McLeod said providing information to people who use drugs on how to stay safer, “sends the wrong message to people who we want to help.” 

The HIV Legal Network and the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition contend these restrictions pose a severe threat to the health and safety of people in Saskatchewan, particularly those at risk of contracting hepatitis C and HIV, as well as drug poisoning and overdose.  

“If the Saskatchewan government is concerned about sending messages with its policies, let’s be clear. The message this sends is that if you use drugs or live with addiction, the government does not care about your safety,” says DJ Larkin, executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. 

The HIV Legal Network stresses the vital role that harm reduction information and supplies play in mitigating the spread of HIV and hepatitis C. “Saskatchewan already has by far the highest rate of new HIV infections in Canada,” say Sandra Ka Hon Chu and Janet Butler-McPhee of the HIV Legal Network. “This is a reckless move, and a terrible use of public health dollars. Limiting access to cost-effective interventions proven to keep people safer – and alive – is counterproductive. Anyone who loves someone who uses drugs in Saskatchewan should be very alarmed by this backwards shift in policy.”

Saskatchewan is already facing disproportionately high rates of HIV and hepatitis C cases. The province has the highest rate of new HIV diagnoses in Canada, according to 2022 data from the Public Health Agency of Canada. While the rate of new diagnoses of HIV in Canada is 3.8 per 100,000 people, in Saskatchewan, the rate is more than five times that, at 20.3 per 100,000 people. Hepatitis C surveillance data from 2021 shows Saskatchewan had 38.3 reported cases per 100,000 population, versus the national rate of 19.7 new cases per 100,000. 

Information available on the government of Saskatchewan’s website recognizes the importance of sterile supplies to reduce harm, encouraging the public to “protect yourself from HIV [and] hepatitis C…use new, clean needles each time you use drugs, and do not share supplies with other people.” 

The policy announcement comes as the Saskatchewan Coroners Service has indicated the number of drug toxicity deaths in 2023 is likely to set a provincial record, with a possible 484 lives lost. 

“This approach is completely unsupported by any evidence,” says Larkin. “None of this will stop people from using drugs. It will only stop people from getting the information and supplies they need to stay safer. People in Saskatchewan will be hurt by this decision.” 

Local organizations offering programs and services to support those actively using or affected by substance use worry the decision will harm marginalized communities, hamper efforts to connect people to supports, and put further strain on grassroots organizations already providing life-saving services on shoestring budgets.  

“Our funding already falls short of what’s needed to support the 300 people who regularly access our services,” says Kayla DeMong of Prairie Harm Reduction. “We’re not willing to abandon people, so we’ll have to find a way to fund the supplies on our own. The fact that the government is making our work harder is so disheartening.” 

The joint letter urges officials to reverse the changes, and engage in open dialogue with the organizations, people with lived and living experience, public health experts, frontline workers, and other stakeholders to explore approaches grounded in evidence that prioritize the health and safety of all Saskatchewan residents. 

Read the open letter here. 


Media Contact: 

To arrange interviews, email: [email protected]

About the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition 

Founded in 2010, the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition works in partnership with more than 60 organizations and 7,000 individuals working to support the development of a drug policy for Canada that is based in science, guided by public health principles, respectful of the human rights of all, and seeks to include people who use drugs and those harmed by the war on drugs in moving towards a healthier society. Learn more at 

About HIV Legal Network 

The HIV Legal Network promotes the human rights of people living with HIV or AIDS and other populations disproportionately affected by HIV, punitive laws and policies, and criminalization, in Canada and internationally. We do this through research and analysis, litigation and other advocacy, public education, and community mobilization. Learn more at 

About Prairie Harm Reduction

Prairie Harm Reduction is a community based non-profit organization, in the heart of the inner city of Saskatoon, whose mission is to improve the quality of life for all members of our community through gold standards in harm reduction, emphasizing local action with national impact.

About CDPC

We are an independent civil society network of organizations and individuals working to improve Canada’s drug policies. Staff occasionally re-post important articles and curate this space with guest bloggers from our network.