On Wednesday Federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett announced $13 million for 11 harm reduction projects in the prairies, Northwest Territories and Yukon, as the overdose and toxic drug crisis exacts a heavy toll across the country.
She made the announcement at the West Broadway Community Organization in Winnipeg.
Bennett said 30 thousand people have died from an overdose in Canada since 2016, and that the conversation surrounding addictions needs to change.
“When we think about people using drugs, I think it’s been really important to understand that we have been asking the wrong question, not ‘what’s the matter with him, but what happened to him’.”
The money is to be spread out between Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Northwest Territories, and Yukon.
The initiatives receiving funding range from harm and relapse prevention services in Edmonton, opioid agonist treatment services in Grande Prairie, Rapid Access to Addiction Medicine Clinics in Calgary and Winnipeg, to outpatient addiction support for women in Saskatoon.
Provinces like Saskatchewan have chosen not to fund safe consumption sites. While others place restrictions on their operation.
Bennett said barriers to access and care should be removed.
“Some people don’t seem able to understand that the evidence is there—harm reduction saves lives,” Bennett said. “When we think about trauma-informed care, we have to understand that some people fell off a roof and ended up with painkillers and then got cut off and had to go to the street for their drugs. Other people, it’s their psychic pain of trauma, and residential schools, of child abuse, and that those people are numbing their pain with drugs and alcohol.”
Bennett said addictions and overdose have become not a “they” problem but an “us” problem, with almost everyone knowing someone who’s been lost in the crisis.
With files from the Canadian Press