Manitoba rules out supervised drug site

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The Manitoba government has taken a hard line against supervised consumption sites after Community Wellness Minister Sarah Guillemard went to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

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The Manitoba government has taken a hard line against supervised consumption sites after Community Wellness Minister Sarah Guillemard went to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

The Tory government said late Wednesday it is committed to a “recovery-oriented system of care” and investment in treatment and long-term recovery.

The government rejected the supervised consumption site model after Guillemard toured East Hastings Street with Alberta Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis this week.

ETHAN CAIRNS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

The government rejected the supervised consumption site model after Community Wellness Minister Sarah Guillemard toured East Hastings Street with Alberta Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis this week.

The area is home to large tent encampments and a supervised injection drug consumption site.

“After researching various types of addictions services and harm-reduction approaches with the department of mental health and community wellness, and seeing supervised consumption sites in Vancouver, I am certain our government’s current approach for the pursuit of long-term recovery is the correct path for our province,” Guillemard said in the release.

“Jurisdictions that have formalized supervised consumption sites are not seeing reductions in drug use or overdose deaths.”

On Twitter, the minister posted photos of people in tents on East Hastings Street, in front of the injection site, which is operated by Vancouver Coastal Health. It offers harm reduction services and programs to people wanting to begin their recovery.

“Everywhere we walked, people were consuming drugs. Many were in catatonic states or passed out,” Guillemard tweeted.

Eighty front-line organizations and service providers signed a letter last week that called for a safe consumption site to prevent drug users from dying. When pressed on safe consumption sites last week, Guillemard said her government hadn’t identified a model that will work in Manitoba.

“The strongest harm-reduction strategy is actually to encourage individuals off the drugs,” she said at the time.

The province recorded at least 215 overdose deaths in the first six months of this year, and is on track to exceed last year’s record of 407 drug-related fatalities.

Manitoba Health Coalition director Thomas Linner said supervised consumption sites can be the difference between “today and tomorrow” for people who use drugs.

“It’s hard to reconcile what the minister or the premier are saying with the toll of deaths that we know is happening on the streets,” said Linner, whose organization advocates for universal public health care and evidence-based improvements.

Linner said supervised consumption sites are part of the continuum of care in addictions treatment and recovery.

He said the Tories’ dogmatic approach to supervised consumption sites ignores people who are vulnerable and not ready for other levels of treatment.

“If you took some walks through different parts of Winnipeg, you’d see some pretty desperate situations as well,” Linner said of the minister’s focus on downtown Vancouver. “It is heartbreaking, now I would put it to the minister and the premier, that if it were not for supervised consumption sites in Vancouver, that we would likely see a larger scale of death.”

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the Tories’ position is irresponsible. Should the NDP form government in the next election, Kinew said he would pursue a supervised consumption site as part of a broader initiative to address blood-borne illness and congenital syphilis.

“It’s unfortunate that the PCs are not going to take this step now, because they could potentially save lives,” Kinew said. “It creates so much more risk.”

Guillemard said Manitoba needs to “do more of what it is doing” to maximize investments in long-term recovery care.

“We are focused on ensuring treatment is available to Manitobans when they are ready for recovery,” she said.

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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