Manitoba

Supervised injection site needed for drug users in Manitoba: Canadian Mental Health Association report

The report from the Canadian Mental Health Association says that while several provinces have opened supervised consumption sites, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, the Atlantic provinces and northern territories still don’t have any.

Premier disagrees with call for injection site, promises 'positive steps' on 'so-called epidemic'

Supervised injection sites help prevent overdoses and reduce the number of stray needles left lying on streets, a report from the Canadian Mental Health Association says. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

A new report on how Canada should address the growing opioid crisis supports calls for a supervised injection site for drug users in Manitoba.

"Supervised consumption sites and overdose prevention sites are effective in saving lives," the summary of the Canadian Mental Health Association report says.

The report, titled Care not Corrections: Relieving the Opioid Crisis in Canada, says that while several provinces have opened supervised consumption sites, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, the Atlantic provinces and the northern territories still don't have any.

The sites offer drug users a space in which to consume under the supervision of health-care workers who can intervene in the event of an overdose and help connect users to treatment.

Supervised injection sites also reduce the number of stray needles left lying on streets, the report says.

Community opposition, stigma

Despite evidence that these sites are effective at reducing deaths and other drug-related health problems, "community opposition, stigma and a lack of infrastructure continue to operate as barriers to their establishment," the report says.

The report also recommends decriminalizing personal possession of all substances as a way to reduce the stigma around drug use, which the authors say discourages users from seeking help and leads to riskier behaviour.

Winnipeg's Main Street Project has proposed opening a supervised consumption site in the old Mitchell Fabrics building at the corner of Main and Logan, but the provincial government has argued the evidence suggests a site would not work in this city.

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew brought up the CMHA report and Main Street Project's proposal in the legislature during question period on Tuesday.

"In order for their application to go forward to the federal government, the premier has to sign off on it. Will he support their application for a safe consumption site here in Winnipeg?" Kinew said.

Premier Brian Pallister said he doesn't agree with the call for a supervised consumption site, but his government will soon take action on recommendations in a new report from consulting firm Virgo Planning and Evaluation, which was hired to review how addictions and mental health services can be better co-ordinated in Manitoba.

The province has said that Winnipeg doesn't have the same concentration of drug users as some communities, like Vancouver.

"This isn't the same situation that is faced, sadly, by British Columbia or other jurisdictions across the country. We have not had the incidences, not even remotely close," Pallister said.

"It's disappointing to hear the premier set out the standard of Downtown Eastside Vancouver as what we should expect to see before they will take action to actually save lives," Kinew said.

'Positive steps'

Pallister pointed to his government's work on distributing opioid antidotes like naloxone and suboxone as evidence of their work on harm reduction.

"These initiatives and others, along with the actions we will take on the aforementioned Virgo study will be, we hope, positive steps in addressing a number of the concerns around this so-called epidemic."

Pallister said the CEO of the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba has expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of a site here in Winnipeg.

The premier said research shows that more than 70 per cent of overdoses happen in the home, but Kinew said the report indicates supervised consumption sites reduce overdoses at home and the rate of overdoses at home is high because currently, users have nowhere else to go.

Kinew also argued that the measures Pallister pointed to would only help people after they've overdosed.

Limited resources: Goertzen

Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen, speaking after question period, said the province receives many requests and he has to make decisions on how to best use limited resources.

"There is a significant demand for more treatment. I think that's important. There is a significant demand for more rapid access for those who are dealing with methamphetamine episodes within our hospitals. I think that's important. So we only have so much money to be able to use," Goertzen said.

The minister's response shows "the Pallister government puts dollars and cents before health care and the care that people need," Kinew said.

While the Main Street Project is proposing establishing a new site, Kinew said it might be cheaper to set up a site within an existing community organization.

Goertzen said the Virgo report could be released to the public in late April or early May.

About the Author

Cameron MacLean

Web Writer

Cameron MacLean is a journalist living in Winnipeg, Man. where he was born and raised. He has more than a decade of experience covering news in the city and across the province, working in print, radio, television and online.