Harm reduction report calls for action in Manitoba
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This article was published 16/02/2022 (405 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The province is failing to support harm reduction strategies for people with addictions, allowing problems to ripple through Manitoba communities, according to a new report.
The Manitoba Harm Reduction Network report is a compilation of numerous studies showing the potential benefits of various strategies, such as managed alcohol programs and supervised consumption services.
“We always find that folks are saying, we need to report on this or we need to do some more studying on this… So, this is a very easy tool that governments and organizations can use and point to and say, ‘Here’s the information. It’s already done. We don’t need another report six months later. It’s already been done, and we’re ready to go,’” said Jonny Mexico, network co-ordinator.
The report calls out Manitoba as being “the only province west of the Maritimes” not to have a single supervised consumption service, accusing the provincial government of failing health-care agencies and harm reduction advocates by refusing to “even entertain the notion” of such services.
It’s a shortcoming that is costing lives, the document says, as the federal government has reported overdose deaths have skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, between 2016 and 2019, more than 19,000 people died of overdose, according to the government of Canada.
The 101-page document makes several recommendations, the first being the creation of a collaborative drug strategy between the City of Winnipeg and the province that is “informed by the best available evidence in public health.”
“It’s nothing new or radical. Nothing that hasn’t been done by other jurisdictions,” Mexico said. “We just need to do it.”
Among other calls to action, it also recommends managed alcohol programs and supervised consumption services.
Managed alcohol programs are supportive housing programs that provide regular and measured doses of alcohol to people with addictions. Supervised consumption services provide safe spaces to consume illicit drugs. Both also function as access points to medical care, counselling, social programs and cultural services.
Mexico said resistance to these ideas likely grows from a fear of these strategies, but a growing body of evidence shows their benefits are many-fold.
A 2017 Vancouver study reported overdose deaths reduced by upwards of 35 per cent within a half-kilometre of a consumption site, and it cites a review of 75 peer-reviewed articles which do not report a single overdose death at any consumption service, likely due to the health-care staff routinely on site.
Studies also suggest significant reductions in the spread of infections, due to access to sterilized syringes.
Benefits extend into the larger community, as well, say numerous studies. Sightings of public injections near a Vancouver consumption service decreased by 71 per cent after the site opened, compared to the six weeks prior. The same report showed a reduction in publicly discarded syringes and other injection-related litter.
Coun. Sherri Rollins renewed her support for improved harm reduction strategies in Winnipeg.
“Quite simply, people are dying,” she said.
She said many people using substances may not feel comfortable going into facilities for even basic health care, and harm reduction sites can provide an access point to these services.
“People focus on the supervised consumption sites. People focus on the managed alcohol programs, and we desperately do need those. But what people don’t focus on is the primary health care delivery that people living with addictions are missing, to the point where peers are looking at each other’s wounds and assessing what to do, because they feel so highly stigmatized in the health-care system,” Rollins said.
Mayor Brian Bowman wouldn’t definitively support or oppose managed alcohol programs or supervised consumption sites in Winnipeg, but said any decisions about the services should be “grounded in terms of a health perspective.”
“I would like to see less ideological scrutiny on these issues than we’ve seen at the provincial level,” Bowman said Wednesday. “I think we need to be open to it.”
The province did not respond to requests for comment before publishing time.
Updated on Thursday, February 17, 2022 6:10 AM CST: Adds photo