The following op-ed by MHC provincial director Thomas Linnerwas first published in the Winnipeg Free Press:

If you’ve ever watched a medical drama - and who doesn’t love a good medical drama - you’re probably familar with the concept of “triage”. In its medical application, Merriam-Webster gives two definitions: “the sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients and especially battle and disaster victims according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors” and “the sorting of patients (as in an emergency room) according to the urgency of their need for care”.

Both definitions are important to understanding the failure of the Manitoba government when it comes to handling the toxic drug supply crisis. Because in effect, the province’s failure to support overdose prevention and supervised consumption services - alongside a continuum of care based on harm reduction models - is a perversion of triage principles. Instead of maximizing the number of survivors in this ongoing crisis we have effectively shuttered our doors to those in the greatest need and danger - the poor, the homeless, those who may be experiencing negative effects from illicit drug use - and ensured that the care they require will not be provided.

Unfortunately, the current Manitoba government under Premier Pallister and now Premier Stefanson has done everything in its power to kick the can on supervised consumption sites down the road and past the next election. 

It’s a decision that can be felt in the human tragedy unfolding in every neighbourhood and every community in Manitoba. Its most visible effects may be found in the core neighbourhoods of major urban centres but there are mothers, fathers, children, friends and loved ones grieving their dead - or aching to help their loved ones reach tomorrow - from Thompson to Treherne to Tuxedo.

All of this has wasted time and cost lives. The overdose crisis is spiralling out of control while our city and our province continue with a cynical and self-defeating law enforcement approach to a public health emergency. Manitobans are experience drug poisoning events and dying needlessly - every day. 418 Manitobans - that we know of - died of an overdose in Manitoba in 2022. We do not have up-to-date information for 2023, but we do know that Winnipeg Fire and Paramedic Service data shows an alarming uptick in the number of calls requiring the use of naloxone in 2023 over 2022. The problem is getting worse. The scale of death will only increase without direct intervention.

No one, in the history of Manitoba or any other jurisdiction, has ever received addictions treatment after they have died.

A government dedicated to triage principles - to addressing the most urgent needs for care - would not be introducing legislation to block services like Sunshine House’s Mobile Overdose Prevention Site. It would instead commit to making the $275,000 investment necessary to keep it up and running and act to establish dedicated supervised consumption sites in Winnipeg and throughout the province, where feasible. This would take pressure off of emergency rooms and first responders and save lives. No one thinks that supervised consumption sites represent a “silver bullet”; far from it. Rather, we see these life-saving services as establishing a fighting chance for tomorrow.

In our favourite medical drama, right about now a wise and attractive doctor in a white coat would have an epiphany and save our patient (or province). But this is no medical drama - and no one is going to save us but ourselves. The good news is that Manitobans have consistently indicated their support for supervised consumption sites as a means of addressing the overdose crisis through public polling; most recently, 8 in 10 Winnipegers supported the creation of such a site for a Probe Research poll one year ago during the municipal election campaign.

What is needed now is for Manitobans to demand change from their political leaders, at every level. During the municipal elections last year the Manitoba Health Coalition asked Manitobans to consider the different candidates position on supervised consumption sites when casting their ballots. We ask Manitobans to do the same during this provincial election. 

You might not have a white coat.

But you can help saves lives.