Increases in communicable diseases linked to meth use, NDP call for action

Manitoba’s opposition party is raising the alarm after discovering a spike in communicable diseases tied to meth use.

The NDP released information it obtained via Freedom of Information requests from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority indicating an “unprecedented” spike in blood borne diseases that were linked to meth use.

The party said the documents showed illnesses like HIV, syphilis and Hepatitis B and C rose dramatically over the past year — including a recent outbreak of Hepatitis B “almost exclusively linked to injection drug use.”

NDP leader Wab Kinew said the Progressive Conservatives are lagging on taking action to combat the drug crisis, which is now being shown to pose more widespread risk to the general population.

“Other people from other walks of life, who may not themselves be using drugs like this, because of the rapid spread of IV drug use in our province, other people can be made sick as a result,” Kinew said Tuesday.

He said he’d like to see a push for safe injection sites, which have largely been opposed by the province.

The WRHA documents show the health authority is on track to give out roughly two million needles this year — but it said “the current demand exceeds the supply budget by approximately four times.”

“It is serious,” said Medical Officer of Health Pierre Plourde. “We are seeing a direct link between injection drug use… and the spread of infections that can spread via shared needles.”

The health authority reports a case of Hepatitis C costs the healthcare system more than $40,000, while a single case of HIV costs roughly $1 million. Whereas a new needle costs just nine cents.

Plourde said the WRHA used to hand out less than half a million needles but that number has increased at an alarming rate.

“We’re on track to distribute over two million needles this year, which is way more than we ever have,” Ploude said. “And it increases every year by roughly 30 to 40 per cent so to continue, you asked if we can afford that, essentially we have to because funding that will prevent a lot greater cost down the road.”

But Health Minister Cameron Friesen said the people who are getting the blood borne diseases from using meth aren’t necessarily easy to treat.

“This is largely a homeless group — it is a group that is more difficult to get to by public health than conventionally has been the case,” Friesen said. “We are offering supplies and resources, sometimes they aren’t accepting, sometimes they are resisted.”

Friesen also said the province is working to “create trust” with meth users — in some cases, using third-party groups.

The documents from the WRHA also show emergency room visits by patients who had used meth were up significantly in 2018, which the health authority said places “extreme pressures on emergency services, hospitals and addictions resources.”

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