Injection needle demand jumps in Brandon

Advocates on the front line of the meth crisis in Brandon, Man., say new numbers showing a rise in needle distribution are shocking but not surprising.

Advocates see more needles in Manitoba city but hope numbers could mean less sharing

In Manitoba's four rural regional health authorities, demand for needles is seven times what it was in 2016. In the Prairie Mountain Health region, where Brandon is located, needle distribution doubled in one year. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Advocates on the front line of the meth crisis in Brandon, Man., say new numbers showing a rise in needle distribution are shocking but not surprising.

The demand for injection needles from local health authorities has soared across Manitoba over the last three years, their data says.

The numbers are particularly stark in communities outside of Winnipeg. In Manitoba's four rural regional health authorities, demand for needles is seven times what it was in 2016.

"I was really, really sad to hear it, but unfortunately, I wasn't surprised," said Antoinette Gravel-Ouellette, an advocate for a detox centre in Brandon and mother of a woman who has battled opioid addiction.

Gravel-Ouellette said while the numbers are concerning, a higher demand for needles could also be a sign that people aren't reusing dirty needles and are feeling safe enough to approach health-care providers for new ones. 

"It provides hope that we're helping," she said.

Antoinette Gravel-Ouellette, here with her daughter Taylor-John, says the jump in needle demand is a catch-22. She thinks more people are using but hopes there's less needle sharing. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

In Prairie Mountain Health, in which Brandon is the biggest community, the number of needles being distributed doubled in one year, from approximately 95,000 to 187,000.

The data was obtained by the Opposition NDP through a freedom of information request.

"I was shocked, but I shouldn't have been, because I also know [drug use] has increased," Gravel-Ouellette said.

"I hear about people dying and people using, and I hear about it all over the place in rural Manitoba."

Brandon Bear Clan sees more needles

Roberta MacKinnon, one of the founders of Brandon's Bear Clan safety patrol, said her group sees the increase in needles on the street.

"We're finding more and more needles. That's the difference that we see," she said.

When the volunteer group started patrolling the streets of Brandon in June 2017, they picked up between 50 and 60 used needles per month, she said.

In the last few months, they are collecting between 200 and 280 a month, she said.

"You can go to Prairie Mountain Health in Brandon and they'll give them out, no questions asked," she said.

"In a way, it's good, because at least they are using safe needles and clean needles. In another way, it's not so good, because they're not returning the ones they got."

Roberta MacKinnon, one of the founders of Brandon's Bear Clan safety patrol, says her group is seeing an increase in discarded needles in the streets. 2:56

Advocate Kim Longstreet said the jump in needle distribution is another sign that Brandon needs more services for people with addictions, including a safe consumption site.

She's been pushing for more resources in the community since her son became addicted to meth two years ago.

"I've seen some pretty harsh things in my own community with needles. We started taking needles out of dumpsters because we knew that people would be taking them [out of there] and using them," she said.

"Maybe the message is getting across about using clean needles."

Kim Longstreet has been advocating for additional resources for drug addicts and their families in Brandon. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

About the Author

Marina von Stackelberg

Journalist

Marina von Stackelberg is a CBC journalist based in Winnipeg. She previously worked for CBC in Halifax and Sudbury. Connect with her @CBCMarina or marina.von.stackelberg@cbc.ca