City Hall to hear merits, feasibility of supervised consumption sites in Winnipeg

Potential supervised consumption sites (SCS) in Winnipeg should be paired with corresponding health and recovery services, sufficient resources, and be located near where people would consume anyways, according to a report heading to City Hall on Monday.

Winnipeg’s public service was directed to look into the merits and feasibility of SCSs in February 2021, and the results will be presented to the Standing Policy Committee on Protection, Community Services and Parks tomorrow.

The authors of the report say they consulted with experts from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, Manitoba Department of Families, Manitoba Department of Health, and various community organizations, among others.

Read more: Safe injection site could operate in Winnipeg without provincial approval: report

They say four core principles emerged, the first being that supervised consumption is already happening in Winnipeg.

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“SCSs are already operating informally, just not in the way most people think, and not in a way that effectively manages the health and safety of those involved and/or effectively reduces harm,” the report reads in part.

This largely takes the form of people attending washrooms in public or semi-public locations, such as coffee shops.

Stakeholders referenced for the report also noted the city should support, but not run SCSs.

“There was a general consensus that the existing network of agencies and organizations working in harm reduction in this city would be most properly situated to actively operate an SCS,” the authors continue.

“In fact, several stakeholders indicated they were at some stage of planning to apply for a s.56(1) exemption in order to lawfully operate an SCS.”

Read more: Advocates raise concern over closure of Edmonton supervised consumption site: ‘It’s puzzling’

City support could be financial, operational (such as supplying paramedics), or some other means, like advocacy and public education.

The report also points out the focus of SCSs is not to simply provide a convenient and legal way for people to use, but rather with the addition of other supports and treatment, can provide a way for people to enter care and treatment.

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The final principle to take into account is that location is very important, ideally no more than 500 meters from where people who consume tend to be.

“Beyond that distance, the research seems to indicate that those using substances will choose their existing environments/locations, rather than travel to the facility,” the report reads.

The authors note funding is one of the main barriers to SCSs, and say the province doesn’t have any existing funding streams applicable to this approach.

However, they add the federal government has made tens-of-millions-of-dollars available through multiple programs.

Read more: Use of opioids, meth, mixed drugs on the rise on Winnipeg streets

When implemented properly, the report says a growing body of evidence shows SCSs can reduce the risk of accidental overdose, instances of diseases like HIV, strain on the health care system, and discarded drug equipment, among other benefits.

Calls to the Winnipeg Paramedic Service related to substance use since 2016 peaked in 2019, at 8,069.

So far in 2021, there have been 2,429 calls.

Use of Narcan and Olanzapine by paramedics to counter the effects of overdose spiked last year at 2,684, compared to 1,404 the year before, and appear on track to match or eclipse those totals.

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In the first four months of 2021, overdose-reversing measures have been used 885 times.

Monday’s committee is scheduled to receive the report as information, so it’s unclear at this point how or if the information may be put to use.

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