Manitoba’s first formal mobile overdose prevention site (MOPS) has obtained over $375,000 so it can operate over the winter months.
The site, hosted by the Sunshine House, is a place where people can “come and use substances in a space supervised by staff who are trained in overdose response.” Advocates say that in the midst of a toxic drug crisis, a MOPS is necessary, particularly in winter.
Levi Foy, executive director of the Sunshine house, said winter is the worst time of the year. Davey Cole, MOPS co-ordinator, added that “the risks and harms that people face when using substances outdoors are multiplied when the weather gets cold.”
It’s more than just winter that poses a problem, though.
“Winter is especially tough for people’s mental health,” said Megan Tate, vice-president of community impact with the Winnipeg Foundation, but so are homelessness, food security and the pandemic’s impact on mental health.
Kate Kehler, executive director of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, said that “when life is too difficult to deal with, (people) will seek whatever self-medication they can.” She said while alcohol is still overused and leads to more deaths than drug use, “we’re seeing more immediate deaths based on the toxic drug crisis.”
Kehler added that for this reason, it’s critical to have MOPS.
“We have a toxic drug crisis, and we’ve had it too long, and we’re losing people in it.”
Tate said the MOPS “provides life-saving services to community members that may be struggling with addiction.” This is at the heart of the site.
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“Every life is important,” she said.
In a media release, the Sunshine House said from October 2022 to November 2023, more than 25,000 visits were made to the site, 7,600 drug uses were supervised and 391 drug checks for dangerous contaminants were made.
Kehler said through the MOPS, “we’re saying you are loved, you are one of our relations and we need to look after you in this time.”
It’s more than just providing a safe space to use, though, Tate said.
“For those who are ready, staff at the site will also provide referrals to other services that could include access to housing, or for those who are ready for the next step in their journey, access to addiction treatment.”
She added that having a designated space for people to use drugs safely is a way to alleviate pressures placed on “family resource centres, women’s resource centres, homeless shelters” that are being used as “unofficial consumption sites.”
“That’s not their primary role in our community. They’re not paramedics, they’re not addictions counsellors. They’re here to serve the community in a different capacity,” Tate said.
Kehler said “we hear from community partners all the time that they have to keep naloxone at their front desks.”
“Oftentimes not even their more experienced staff are the ones responding to it. It’s actually their front desk that are running out in order to avoid an overdose or a toxic drug death,” she said.
A media release from the Sunshine House said $72,728 came from the Health Canada Substance Use and Addictions Program, about $55,000 from grassroots fundraising and $250,000 from the Winnipeg Foundation.
Sunshine House said these funds will keep the MOPS operating up to March 31 next year.
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