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In early November, Manitoba Premiere Heather Stefanson spoke about the ineffectiveness of supervised safe consumption sites by referencing non-existent "safe consumption sites in California." In the same month, the Minister of Mental Health and Community Wellness (MHCW), Sarah Guillemard outright lied by saying there was no proof that safe consumption sites, like the one in Vancouver, have any affect on drug overdoses and safe drug consumption.
North Star conducted a series of interviews about this issue; speaking with Autumn, a recovering addict, Thomas Linner, the Provincial Director of Manitoba Health Coalition and Shohan Illsley, the Executive Director of Manitoba Harm Reduction. A common thread in these interviews was the evidence pointing towards the success of safe consumption sites and the importance of releasing data on drug use - something the Manitoba government has been avoiding doing since 2021.
Linner told North Star, "With no data, there's no story. We see a pattern from this government of hiding indicators [on the drug crisis] so as to not drive system improvement... 80+ organizations, folks who work with the most vulnerable populations of this province, wrote to [the Manitoba government] and directly told them that their facilities are being used as defacto safe-consumption sites because the government won't do its job."
In 2013, Canada banned oxycodone, an opiate often known as Oxycotin. Illsley explained to us how this caused the drug toxicity crisis. "When this was all taken away, it opened up a market for illegally manufactured Fentanyl... When you have an illegally manufactured substance, people do not know the potency or the toxicity.".
Autumn, a recovering addict, shared her thoughts on safe consumption sights, "My uncle was one of those people in BC who almost OD'd and died... Those sites got put up over there and then he started going to them and it saved him. They test their drugs and then you know if it's something bad."
"We have people as young as 17 or 18 years old who... might be using for the 3rd or 4th time, and it's a toxic supply, and they die from it..." Illsley told North Star. The crisis does not stop at the toxicity - a 2018 report by VIRGO and the Department of MHCW determined Manitoba is one of the worst provinces in the country for accessing treatment for substance use.
"I think that it would be pretty good for us to have [safe consumption sites] here because of all the people that are ODing and dying. People don't know what they're getting when they buy drugs and they have no safe place to do it. I've lost a lot of friends from ODing...If they had those sites set up, imagine how many lives they would save." Autumn told North Star.