Overdose deaths increasing in Manitoba, advocates speak out

Click to play video: 'Overdose deaths increasing in Manitoba, advocates speak out'
Overdose deaths increasing in Manitoba, advocates speak out
A new record for substance related deaths has been set in Manitoba. Katherine Dornian looks at what advocates are calling for and what the government's plans are – Mar 26, 2024

Arlene Last-Kolb lost her son, Jesse, to an overdose 10 years ago.

Whenever she sees new data on drug-related deaths, she can’t help but think of those people’s families.

“There are going to be many people destroyed by this, the rippling effect of it, the loss. It will change them forever,” Last-Kolb said.

Preliminary numbers from the Chief Medical Examiner’s office show 445 drug-related deaths in Manitoba in 2023, compared to 418 the previous year.

“That means that more than one person is dying every day. I wish there was some other way that we could say numbers and stuff to really convey that these are families,” Last-Kolb said.

Addictions minister Bernadette Smith said the increase concerning, and added her government is hard at work on harm reduction.

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“We are working with front-line organizations to work on getting our first supervised consumption site up and running. We’re working towards getting drug testing machines out,” she said.

Smith promised more details in next week’s budget.

But advocates want to see a more aggressive approach to reduce these deaths.

Marion Willis, founder and executive director of St. Boniface Street Links, said multiple government departments need to be at the table with front-line workers to develop a comprehensive plan.

“You have to understand the addictions crisis is one component of a much larger crisis. We have mental health crisis, addictions crisis, a homeless crisis, we’ve got more youth violence than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime,” she said.

Last-Kolb also wants to see a holistic approach involving all levels of government.

She said harm reduction isn’t enough, and it’s safe supply that should be on every parent’s mind.

“You’re not thinking, ‘they’re going to need treatment one day, I better advocate for that, I better be ready for that.’ You’re not going to think about that. But what you need to be thinking about is the pill that they might take on the weekend, and they might die from.”

The first step in reducing harm is keeping vulnerable people alive, Last-Kolb said, and suggests a state of emergency should be called.

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“How many lives do we give and do we accept as acceptable?'”

“My son was only 24. He had his own home. He had dreams and hopes,” she said. “People don’t understand what that one-person loss is going to do to their family. They won’t even have the strength to fight.

“It’s really hard to fight once your child’s gone. But we’ve got to. We’ve got to because this is unacceptable.”

with files from Global’s Katherine Dornian

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