‘It’s heartbreaking’: Manitoba’s drug-related deaths have more than doubled since 2019

Advocates are calling for safe supply as drug-related deaths in Manitoba have more than doubled amid the pandemic, with fentanyl contributing to more than half of them.

Preliminary data from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner shows drug-related deaths hit a four-year high in 2021.

In total, 407 people deaths were related to drugs in 2021 – more than double the number of drug-related deaths reported in 2018 and 2019.

“It is extremely sad. These are losses of loved ones and lives, so it’s heartbreaking, but sadly, it’s not surprising to me,” said Arlene Last-Kolb, cofounder of Overdose Awareness Manitoba.

Of the deaths reported in 2021, there were 277 deaths where at least one opioid which includes fentanyl was present – up from 254 the year prior.

Last-Kolb, whose son Jessie died in 2014 due to a fentanyl overdose, blames the increase in deaths on a lack of safe supply.

“My son was a wonderful man – a wonderful, beautiful person. He died from a toxic supply, he died from substances. I will shout from the rooftops to change that. These are preventable death,” she said.

“I’ve lost a child. I don’t want to continue doing this. Just do the right thing.”

Last-Kolb said she is meeting with Sara Guillemard, minister of mental health and community wellness, next month. She plans to advocate for access to safe supply as well as more awareness surrounding anti-stigma.

“The significant increase in overdose deaths since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic is tragic,” a spokesperson for Guillemard told CTV News in a statement. “These deaths have impacted families, friends, communities and our province as a whole.”

The spokesperson said ensuring individuals have access to appropriate addictions supports and treatment services, when they need them, is a priority.

They pointed to a number addiction treatment services and supports and different levels of withdrawal management, including hospital-based medical and non-medical community-residential and mobile withdrawal management services, as well as a variety of community-based services, opiate agonist treatment, short and long-term primary residential addictions treatment, after-care programming, outreach and supportive recovery housing.

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