The Manitoba government continues to take a hard stance against supervised consumption sites.
The province’s community wellness minister, Sarah Guillemard, says other jurisdictions using consumption sites haven’t seen reductions in drug use or overdose deaths — a sentiment echoed by premier Heather Stefanson.
The premier cited concerns around crime and safety Thursday as one of her reasons for rejecting the idea of consumption sites.
“(In other cities) there’s zones where there’s people that prey on vulnerable people with addictions, and that increases crime around those areas, and we’ve seen that in other jurisdictions and we just don’t want to see that here in Manitoba,” Stefanson told 680 CJOB’s The Start.
“We want to tackle it in a different way. We want to focus on getting people off their addictions.”
Stefanson said the province is committed to what she calls a “recovery-oriented” system of care, which includes treatment and long-term recovery. The premier said Manitoba has committed to increasing the number of anti-overdose naloxone kits available.
“We’ve increased the supports for shelters. We want to make sure people are in safe places.
“Once they’re in there, we want to make sure we can get the wraparound supports for what they need, so that’s what our focus has been and will continue to be.”
Minister Guillemard was in Vancouver earlier this week and visited the city’s troubled Downtown Eastside this week. She said jurisdictions like Vancouver with consumption sites aren’t seeing reductions in drug use or overdose deaths.
Guillemard said the province will targets its investments more toward core services.
“There’s been chronic underfunding in mental health and certainly in addictions,” she said. “There has to be components put in place in order for any model to be successful, and we need to get those components right and that’s what our government is focused on.”
In April, Guillard had expressed openness to exploring safe consumption sites in Manitoba, saying “nothing is off the table” when it comes to combating substance abuse and drug overdoses.
The conservative government’s stance on consumption sites has garnered criticism from opposition MLAs and advocates, with Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew tweeting Wednesday that Stefanson’s comments are “irresponsible” and that lives are at stake.
On Monday, a group of more than 80 community organizations on the front-line of the overdose crisis sent an open letter asking all levels of government to take direct action on the overdose crisis.
“As community organizations on the front line of the overdose crisis we are asking for immediate actions that will provide us with the tools and resources needed to respond to this crisis,” the letter said, citing a recent Probe Research showing that eight in 10 Winnipeggers polled support the creation of safe consumption sites.
“We are working tirelessly to ensure not one life is lost. Our spaces have become injection sites, our doorways, washrooms and alleyways are overdose response sites, and yet this is not enough, we need action now.”