Manitoba should declare public health emergency to combat meth, Liberals say

Leader Dougald Lamont also wants the government to immediately create a meth task force and follow through on the unit's recommendations, he said on Tuesday.

Liberals want provincial government to use money from Ottawa, cannabis revenues to deal with epidemic

Methamphetamine was linked to 35 deaths in Manitoba in 2017. (Motortion Films/Shutterstock)

The Manitoba Liberals are calling on the government to declare a public health emergency to save a province mired in a meth crisis. 

Leader Dougald Lamont also wants the government to immediately create a meth task force and follow through on the unit's recommendations, he said on Tuesday.

"We've been talking about the meth crisis for a year and there's been a steady increase in deaths, in overdoses," he said. "It's driving crime, not just in Winnipeg but across Manitoba."

The drug has been tied to a spike in the number of violent and property crimes in Winnipeg, and is even linked to one-third of all of the city's homicides in 2017. 

Winnipeg police chief Danny Smyth previously said the drug's stranglehold on the city has kept him up at night.

To fight the epidemic, Lamont wants a provincially appointed director to run the task force and assemble a team. The unit would enlist other government departments for assistance, he said.

He said action is needed now because the government is not doing enough. 

"The province doesn't seem to be prepared."

Health Minister Cameron Friesen said no good ideas — including a provincially run task force — are off the table.

Help needed: province

"It's a very real challenge, but we cannot do it overnight and we will not do it by ourselves," Friesen said, suggesting a multi-government strategy is a course of action. "Corroboration and collaboration will be so very important."

Friesen said the government has added beds at the Health Sciences Centre and opened three walk-in clinics, specifically for people struggling with addiction.

It's a step in the right direction, he said.

"We are fully focused on trying to find solutions, both to address the real immediate challenges of the rise of meth in our communities, but also the longer-standing challenges," Friesen said.

Lamont said the province's planning should consist of establishing a drug stabilization unit, a facility which would keep people safe while they go through withdrawal. 

The unit can accomplish what the province's rapid access clinics cannot, he said. 

You have "10 hours a week when really what you need is access 24/7," Lamont said.

He added the province has to prevent the drug scourge from claiming additional victims.

On a recent trip to St. Theresa Point, he noticed children had drawn posters to discourage meth use in the northern Manitoba community.

That's more initiative than the province can claim, he said.

Attention on pot misplaced

"I see TV ads, I see billboards about pot, but I didn't see anything at all about meth."

NDP health critic Andrew Swan is arguing in favour of a safe injection site to combat meth, but against the province's refusal to open one in Winnipeg.

"In the midst of a meth crisis that is claiming lives and driving up crime, the Premier refuses to do more than open a clinic for three hours a day, two days a week," said a prepared statement. 

The meth problem is a widespread concern among citizens, according to a new Probe Research poll released on Monday.

The survey found nearly eight in 10 Winnipeggers across various sociodemographic lines are feeling less safe because of the havoc that meth has wreaked on the city.

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter at CBC Manitoba. He previously wrote about rural Manitoba for the Brandon Sun and the Carillon in Steinbach. Story idea? Email ian.froese@cbc.ca.