NDP leader Wab Kinew demanded Friday that Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen create safe consumption sites for injection drug users in Winnipeg and other communities in Manitoba.
"There are people in our city who are dying," Kinew told reporters.
But Goertzen said in an emailed statement late Friday that he's not considering establishing sites.
Kinew said deaths and overdoses from opioids and methamphetamine have reached crisis proportions in Winnipeg. "It's time for there to be a safe consumption site in Winnipeg," he said. "We know safe consumption sites save lives."
Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia already have such sites, Kinew said.
"I don't want my kids to see dirty needles when they're out playing, I don't want to see people dying," he said.
Goertzen said he isn't convinced.
"We are not considering establishing a safe-injection site in Winnipeg as we have not seen evidence that it would be the most effective use of available funding to help those struggling with addiction in Manitoba," Goertzen said.
"Manitoba, like other provinces, is still finalizing the terms of our bi-lateral agreement with the federal government, but we are currently working with stakeholders and department officials to develop proposals for the allocated federal funding," said the health minister. "Those proposals must also consider the various forms of addiction in Manitoba, including addiction to alcohol.
"While federal support is welcome, it only represents a small portion of funding that Manitoba would have received under the previous federal health funding agreement. Manitoba continues to take steps to deal with the reduction in anticipated funding from the federal Liberal government and the impact it has in all areas of healthcare, including mental health and addiction," Goertzen said.
Kinew said that Ottawa needs to sign off, but the provinces then fund the sites under their public health systems. He's already been calling on Goerten to do more to battle addiction, using the federal mental health funding available to Manitoba Health.
"I would hope the minister of health's ideological beliefs don't get in the way of science," Kinew urged.
The NDP leader said that the province could work with community organizations that already help addicts, to locate where to find users and where best to locate sites for safe injections.
The sites could vary from areas within community facilities with trained personnel or volunteers, to stand-alone buildings with nurses on duty, Kinew said.
Meanwhile, Sel Burrows, chair of a Point Douglas community residents group, said Friday that, "The issue of meth in our community is extremely severe. However important additional treatment facilities are, we should not overlook the crucial issue of prevention. Preventing a person from becoming a meth addict is more humane and economically more sustainable than treating a meth addict. Media have reported needs for more treatment facilities which I agree with, particularly for people when they are high.
"However, little attention is paid to preventing meth from reaching potential addicts," Burrows said. "Winnipeg Police Service has really stepped up its interdiction of meth. The more meth taken off the street, the higher the price and the less available it becomes to potential users.
"We encourage other communities to do like Point Douglas, where residents identify dealers and report them to police and to landlords," Burrows said. "We have been very successful in limiting the availability of meth in our community focusing on eviction of meth dealers before they can become established."
Nick Martin is the bearded guy we keep hidden away at the back of the newsroom. He is now in his fourth decade working in daily newspapers.