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Meth problem has province's 'full focus'

John Woods / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES</p><p>Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen plans to announce measures to address the "sudden increase” of methamphetamine use in Manitoba this week.</p>

John Woods / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen plans to announce measures to address the "sudden increase” of methamphetamine use in Manitoba this week.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen says the provincial government is “alarmed about the sudden increase” of methamphetamine use in Manitoba, and he plans to announce further measures to address the situation this week.

Friesen made the comments Wednesday, as the Progressive Conservatives have come under increasing pressure from Opposition MLAs and numerous stakeholders to do more to deal with the crisis.

“It has the full focus of our government,” he said, after the NDP demanded more action and tabled documents it obtained showing health authorities outside of Winnipeg have boosted the number of needles they’re handing out to reduce harm from the spread of diseases such as HIV.

“I feel that in the next year... that this issue of addictions and mental health will continue to stay at the very top of the pile (of priorities) when it comes to the issues that face us in the Department of Health,” Friesen said.

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Health Minister Cameron Friesen says the provincial government is "alarmed about the sudden increase" of methamphetamine use in Manitoba, and he plans to announce further measures to address the situation this week.

Friesen made the comments Wednesday, as the Progressive Conservatives have come under increasing pressure from Opposition MLAs and numerous stakeholders to do more to deal with the crisis.

"It has the full focus of our government," he said, after the NDP demanded more action and tabled documents it obtained showing health authorities outside of Winnipeg have boosted the number of needles they’re handing out to reduce harm from the spread of diseases such as HIV.

"I feel that in the next year... that this issue of addictions and mental health will continue to stay at the very top of the pile (of priorities) when it comes to the issues that face us in the Department of Health," Friesen said.

Premier Brian Pallister said he would bring up the meth issue in private conversations with fellow premiers at this week’s First Ministers’ meeting in Montreal.

"I’m looking forward to getting some perspectives," he said Wednesday. "Other provinces are facing these issues as well."

A House of Commons committee heard startling testimony this week in Ottawa from Manitobans on the extent of the problem in the province. MPs heard of a desperate need for treatment beds and evidence intravenous meth use is rising sharply.

Friesen characterized the increasing IV meth use as "a game-changer," in that it lessens the time for one to exhibit the harmful effects of the drug while increasing the opportunity for disease transmission.

However, neither he nor the premier would commit to the introduction of safe-injection sites, touted by many as a way to reduce harm.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew again demanded a safe-injection site be created in Winnipeg and a detox centre be located in Brandon. He said the evidence shows meth accounts for 50 per cent of all drugs injected in Manitoba.

Kinew said there has been a three-fold increase in needles distributed in Winnipeg by health workers for harm reduction. He also tabled the results of a freedom-of-information request, which showed regional health authorities outside the capital city are also distributing more needles in a bid to reduce the spread of infection.

In the Prairie Mountain Health region, which takes in Brandon and numerous communities in southwestern Manitoba, the number of needles distributed doubled last year to 187,054. So far this year, the health authority is on pace to distribute more than 200,000 needles.

"All of this is just a greater impetus for the government to act," Kinew said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

 

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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