‘There is a drug problem in Winnipeg that we must solve, and all options need to be on the table.’ - Robert-Falcon Ouellette.
Today we announced our plan to tackle one of the most pressing issues facing Winnipeg, the addictions crisis.
To build the city we all want, we need to address one of the root causes of crime and homelessness in our city. Let us have courage and talk about and really address addictions.
As a result of the addictions crisis, Winnipeg has seen a dramatic increase over the last three years in crime, overdoses and death due to drugs that has overwhelmed our paramedic & firefighter personnel and has tied up our police with countless calls. (1) (2)
Addictions affects every aspect of our city life. It makes us nervous to take the bus, makes us avoid certain areas of our city, and even makes us feel unsafe in our own backyards.
Addiction is a mental health illness and must be treated as a public health issue, not a criminal justice issue. Let’s be clear, in Winnipeg addictions is a public health emergency.
There is a drug problem in Winnipeg that we must solve, and all options need to be on the table.
The city is at the forefront of this public health emergency and should take the lead to solve it and as Mayor I will work with community organizations, the province, the federal government, Indigenous governments, anyone to address this.
A) HARM REDUCTION & SHARING A WAY FORWARD
‘…we need to move addictions out of our back lanes and parks and let addicts know that there is a way forward through treatment and support. – Robert-Falcon Ouellette
In Manitoba there were 407 overdose deaths in 2021, up from 387 in 2020, both record amounts. (1) Last May, 23 overdoses were reported in Winnipeg over a 3-day period. (3)
While the number of deaths is staggering, we must remember that for each death there are hundreds of people who continue to suffer from addictions that need our help.
Our work should begin with harm reduction and to do so we need to move addictions out of our back lanes and parks.
Working with community organizations and health resources, we need to reduce deaths and provide the potential for needed intervention. At all times, we must be able to show the addict there is a way out, that treatment is available and a better life possible.
Supervised Consumption Site
‘…at the very minimum the city should set up a Supervised Consumption Site, which it has authority to do.’ – Robert-Falcon Ouellette
Calgary has seen success in offering better health care services to people with addictions. (4) Located in the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre, Safeworks Harm Reduction Program provides a range of health care services and supports to individuals using drugs that improve their health outcomes and help them transition towards recovery. (5)
It is time Winnipeg started offering coordinated addictions health services with the goal of harm reduction, reducing addiction levels and creating entry points for long-term detoxification and treatment.
Coordinated health services approach would need the buy-in of the Manitoba government but at the very minimum the city should set up a Supervised Consumption Site, which it has the authority to do. (6)
Prescribed Pharmaceutical Alternatives
‘If our goal is to address this public health emergency, all options should be on the table.’ - Robert-Falcon Ouellette
While addicts in Winnipeg use several types of drugs, most overdose deaths are ‘meth’ related and are the result of a bad supply, meth mixed with other drugs, like fentanyl, to increase potency.
While it is essential for our city to have police target the supply of drugs, focusing only on ‘cutting of the drug supply’ can make the situation worse for a meth addict, pushing them to search out dangerous alternatives.
As a public health emergency, it is time to recognise that addicts are using street meth because there is no alternative for them. If we want to reduce overdoses and overdose deaths there needs to be prescribed pharmaceutical alternatives.
This would require a buy-in from the Manitoba government but both the College of Physicians & Surgeons of B.C. and the federal government have begun advising doctors that prescribing pharmaceutical grade alternatives to street drugs as part of a comprehensive treatment plan or a stand-alone harm reduction strategy could better support patients and reduce their risk of overdose and death. (7) (8)
If our goal is to address this public health emergency, all options should be on the table.
B) IMMEDIATE TREATMENT
‘Our goal should be to provide treatment when it is needed and to make sure no one is turned away when they ask for help.’ – Robert-Falcon Ouellette
The key to successful treatment is having treatment options available when someone decides to seek treatment.
While the federal and provincial governments have committed additional funding for addictions treatment, there can still be long waits to access programs in Manitoba. (9) (10)
We are committed to working with both levels of government to provide immediate access to treatment programs, including short-term voluntary detoxification programs and long-term in-patient treatment programs.
Our goal should be to provide treatment when it is needed and to make sure no one is turned away when they ask for help.
C) ONGOING SUPPORT SERVICES
These supports are crucial to the success of sober living and the city has a role to play in providing them. - Robert-Falcon Ouellette
After treatment programs have been completed, patients require several supports essential to clean living to avoid relapse, including housing, life skills training and on demand access to support coaches and staff.
An integral part of this final stage will require trained, compassionate coaches that are available 24-7 to offer monitoring and support to maintain overall wellness and safety; assistance with daily living and successfully returning to the community and/or work; motivation and guidance to set and achieve goals; skills and strategies that will help to overcome life’s roadblocks and challenges; collaboration with treatment teams to ensure that goals are achieved, and prescribed treatments are being implemented; and the development of a realis
tic plan to improve various areas of daily living: budgeting, educational planning, professional guidance, sobriety, stability, medication management and physical health.
We are committed to working with community groups, addictions resources and the Manitoba government to make sure that these supports are available after treatment.
These supports are crucial to the success of sober living and the city has a role to play in providing them.
WORKING WITH INDIGENOUS GOVERNMENTS
As Mayor the city will work more closely with Indigenous governments and the federal government to ensure that First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples who need it have access to addictions treatment and all other essential healthy living support services.
Indigenous governments have a very important role to play in preventing and treating addictions. Working with the city, together we can lift more Indigenous people out of the darkness that is addictions and build a stronger Winnipeg for everyone.