Manitoba in line to set record on overdose deaths


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Manitoba appears to be on track to set a grim record for preventable overdose deaths.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/10/2022 (212 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba appears to be on track to set a grim record for preventable overdose deaths.

As of May 31, there were 179 drug-related deaths, according to figures obtained by the Manitoba NDP. Early numbers from June put the overall number of people who died from a drug overdose in the first half of 2022 at 215.

Last year, a record 407 Manitobans fatally overdosed.

Levi Foy, Sunshine House executive director, estimates the outreach team will have about 10,000 interactions annually with people seeking assitance. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“We are failing people at all sorts of levels to provide them the adequate services and support that they need to manage this problem,” Sunshine House executive director Levi Foy said Friday. “It shows we have a lot of work to do and we can’t be delayed or held up by ideological or political differences.”

The drop-in centre was prevented from getting a mobile OD-prevention van on the road in the summer after its catalytic converter was stolen and it had to deal with government red tape.

On Friday, it rolled out the vehicle. The centre’s outreach team is providing drug-checking and harm-reduction services after receiving an urgent public-health need exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Foy estimated the team will have about 10,000 interactions annually with people wanting to check their drug supply for toxic substances, seeking supplies and naloxone (medication used to reverse adverse reactions to opioids), and looking for a peer-monitored environment.

The executive director lamented the delayed launch, adding a recent, major seizure of meth by local police may contribute to a more toxic drug supply in the city.

Local harm reduction advocates issued a toxic drug alert last weekend after three reported fatal overdoses.

During question period Wednesday, Winnipeg Centre MP Leah Gazan told colleagues on Parliament Hill that five people died last week owing to a toxic drug supply. Gazan called on the Liberal government to issue an immediate exemption to Sunshine House.

“If we were out there last week… maybe we could have seen a dramatic increase in the presence of fentanyl in different substances, particularly meth, that would have allowed people to change their using patterns,” Foy said.

Sunshine House continues to fundraise for enhanced drug-testing equipment to provide a more complete run down of a substance’s composition to the people using the overdose prevention site. Already, the organization has raised more than half of the $105,000 needed to buy the equipment.

Foy said it is important not to lose focus on other programming needed to reduce fatal overdoses.

“This site is a very small piece, and should be a small thread in a larger tapestry that better supports people in our city,” Foy said. “There should be things like permanent sites. There should be more access to different services and supports… and there should be safer supply programs in this city.”

New Democrat Bernadette Smith challenged the Tory government to establishing safe consumption sites.

“Harm reduction advocates are saying that the people are not overdosing because they’re using too much, they’re overdosing because of a toxic drug supply,” Smith said. “A safe consumption site would help people ensure the drugs that they are using are safe. It would save lives.”

Mental Health and Community Wellness Minister Sarah Guillemard said the PC government is “investing in evidence-based systems of care” and will continue to do so.

In a statement sent late Friday, a spokesperson for Guillemard’s office said the province was not not consulted about the exemption. The ministerial spokesperson also claimed Sunshine House did not take appropriate legal action to operate its overdose prevention site. The government is committed to a “recovery-oriented system of care,” the statement read.

“An overdose prevention site is a place where individuals consume their drugs and is different from a supervised consumption site, in that there is no obligation to connect individuals to addictions treatment,” the spokesperson said. “Appropriate governance and oversight are needed to prevent unintended consequences associated with an overdose prevention site.”

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.


Updated on Friday, October 28, 2022 6:13 PM CDT: Updates with final version

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