We need action based on evidence, not ideology


Advertise with us

Fact or fiction?: Supervised consumption sites encourage illicit drug use, increase crime, are costly and don’t work.

Read this article for free:


Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe:

Monthly Digital Subscription

$4.75 per week*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles

*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.


Fact or fiction?: Supervised consumption sites encourage illicit drug use, increase crime, are costly and don’t work.

Answer: fiction — but if you have been following media coverage of our provincial politicians’ recent statements, you might think otherwise.

There is a difference between ideology and evidence. Ideology is a set of opinions and beliefs; we all have opinions, beliefs, and world views largely shaped by our family, friends and communities.

Evidence, on the other hand, comes from the study of what happens in real life. The outcomes of interventions are measured and studied, with opinion set aside as much as possible.

There is ample research evidence that these sites save lives. Along with wraparound harm-reduction services and treatment options, they are urgently needed to turn the tide on the worsening overdose crisis in Manitoba.

Manitoba’s current crisis is rooted in a toxic drug supply that started in 2016 and continues to escalate. Having suffered 372 overdose deaths in 2020 and 407 in 2021, Manitoba is on track for even more fatalities in 2022, with 250 already recorded in the first half of the year.

People are not overdosing because they are overusing drugs, but rather because the drug supply is not safe, and they can’t tell if what they’re using is toxic.

Supervised consumption sites, as part of larger harm-reduction strategies, provide life-saving services to the most marginalized people who use drugs, many of whom are homeless or unstably housed. They provide a safe, clean space for people to bring and use their own substances in the presence of trained medical staff.

Other services offered may include drug checking, clean drug-use equipment, safe disposal, education, access to basic medical services, social, addiction and mental-health supports, and referrals for drug treatment and other health services.

The concept started in Europe, and the first Canadian site opened in Vancouver in 2003. There are now more than 100 sites worldwide, with 39 in Canada. These sites have now been studied for decades; notably, after millions of injections under their supervision, no overdose deaths in a site have ever been recorded.

Sites tend to be located where significant public drug use has been observed, and studies have shown a decrease in overdose deaths in those areas. Those who use sites have reduced transmission of blood-borne pathogens such as hepatitis C, hepatitis B and HIV, and less injection-related trauma and infections.

Concerns typically raised that supervised consumption sites will encourage increased drug use, or discourage users from seeking treatment, have been shown to be unfounded.

In Vancouver, there was no discernible increase in the number of persons using drugs 25 months after its site opened, as well as no decrease in people seeking methadone treatment and no increase in relapse rates. In fact, the use of sites has been shown to increase drug-treatment uptake.

In addition to the aforementioned benefits, sites have been shown to be cost-effective. Vancouver experienced significant cost savings from reduced HIV transmission alone.

The evidence is abundantly clear: supervised consumption sites work, are cost-effective, and don’t encourage drug use or increase crime. It’s equally clear that ideology should not be used to disregard facts or pander to the presumed beliefs of voters.

In fact, a recent Probe Research poll preceding the municipal elections showed 81 per cent of Winnipeggers support such sites. Politicians need to catch up, publicly acknowledge the overdose crisis we are in, and recognize the actual evidence around supervised consumption sites and other harm-reduction services.

A great many of us know and love someone who uses drugs. We want them to stay alive and safe, rather than becoming another tragic statistic before being able to access a RAAM (Rapid Access to Addictions Medicine) clinic.

Public input matters. Your voice matters. It’s time to demand policies that work, regardless of ideology or beliefs.

More than 80 organizations recently signed an open letter to all levels of government, demanding immediate action to respond to the overdose crisis. The Manitoba Public Health Association supports that call to immediate action.

Add your support, too, by letting the premier, ministers and your MLA know you expect policies based on evidence. There is no time for policies based on wishful thinking and ideological daydreaming.

Sande Harlos is president of the Manitoba Public Health Association, a volunteer run, non-profit, non-governmental organization that advocates for social justice, reconciliation, and equity for the health of Manitobans.


Report Error Submit a Tip


Advertise With Us