Premier Stefanson Must  Declare The Drug Poisoning Crisis A Public Health Emergency

WINNIPEG (TREATY 1) - Organizations dedicated to stopping the drug poisoning crisis in Manitoba joined together today to call on Premier Stefanson to declare a Public Health Emergency under the provincial Public Health Act.

The illicit drug supply is becoming increasingly toxic and jurisdictions across North America are taking action. British Columbia declared a public health emergency in 2016 and recently reached an agreement with the federal government to decriminalize small amounts of illicit drugs. In February of this year, Yukon declared a “substance use public health emergency”.

Manitoba has seen no such action. Winnipeg City Council passed a motion supporting decriminalization in May. The federal government has made it clear it will work with provinces on decriminalization and harm reduction strategies. Unfortunately, Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen has reiterated his government’s position that drug poisoning deaths are a law enforcement matter rather than a public health crisis. This approach has contributed to the over 400 drug-related deaths last year in Manitoba. 

“Under Premier Pallister and now Premier Stefanson, Manitoba is uniquely hostile to harm reduction efforts amongst Canadian provinces. Manitoba is the only province west of Atlantic Canada without even one dedicated supervised consumption site,” said Thomas Linner, Provincial Director of the Manitoba Health Coalition. ”The declaration of a Public Health Emergency is necessary to make up for lost time, reverse course and begin the rapid action necessary to avoid even more unnecessary deaths on our streets.”

To complement and support this declaration, MHC and its partners demand that Premier Stefanson immediately:

  • Assign Mental Health and Community Wellness Minister Sarah Guillemard with the task of overseeing the response to the drug poisoning crisis, and remove the Minister of Justice from this role
  • Convene a working group of provincial public health officials, service-delivery organizations and peers to align the province’s response along the internationally recognized 4 pillars approach to harm reduction
  • Pass Point Douglas MLA Bernadette Smith’s Private Member’s Bill on overdose death reporting so that service providers have access to current and up-to-date data
  • Approach the federal government to decriminalize small amounts of illicit drugs in order to combat the stigma around addiction and treatment
  • Establish, fund and staff a supervised consumption site in Winnipeg and in other centres where appropriate
  • Work to provide access to a safe and regulated supply of drugs for known users to avoid unnecessary deaths
  • Invest aggressively in drug testing technologies

Manitobans are encouraged to send an online letter to their MLA to support declaring the drug poisoning crisis a Public Health Emergency.

Quotes For Attribution:

Jonny Mexico, on behalf of the Manitoba Harm Reduction Network: “The MHRN fully supports all efforts to move harm reduction initiatives forward in Manitoba.  What provincial leadership is doing now is not working, and we need aggressive solutions to combat the tide of poisoned supply deaths that are increasing year over year. Decriminalization, access to safe supply, drug testing services, and the implementation of OPS/SCS in multiple locations across the province - these are all needed, and needed now.”

Dr. Andrew Lodge, Medical Director, Klinic Community Health: “The tragic human toll seen today cannot be solved in emergency rooms and jail cells. Our predicamen must be viewed as a public health emergency.”

Sherri Rollins, Winnipeg City Councillor for Fort Rouge East Fort Garry: “All too often, the City of Winnipeg has been the only open door for advocates and peers trying to do something about the drug poisoning crisis. Without serious and immediate action from the provincial government we are at risk of losing any progress that has been made. We need a willing partner at the table.” 

Arlene Last-Kolb, Regional Director of Moms Stop the Harm: “I have been doing this for far too many years. The first Minister of Health who I ever spoke to was Kelvin Goertzen. He has moved on from that role and it is time for him to move on from this issue. We cannot be dragged back into the past - we need urgent action to save lives.”