The federal health minister was in Winnipeg on Thursday to announce $116 million in federal funding for addictions programs and organizations that work with drug users, while also confirming the disturbing news that opioid-related deaths are on the rise across the country.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu announced Thursday that the federal government is now accepting proposals for funding from community programs that work directly with drug users, and will be accepting those applications until Sept. 24.
She said she believes the money will be put to good use, as addictions issues and specifically opioid-related harms and death have been on the rise, and have been “exacerbated” by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I had real hope that we were turning a corner,” Hajdu said. “But recently data has shown that opioid-related deaths are actually on the rise, and in fact, the pandemic has exacerbated people’s grief, and trauma, and substance use.”
According to the federal government on average 17 people died and 14 people were hospitalized every day due to opioid-related harms in 2020, while data also shows 2020 was the worst year for opioid-related deaths since the Public Health Agency of Canada began monitoring the crisis in 2016.
Hajdu said that she hoped that through the funding that is now available that organizations would also work to reduce the stigma that often comes with drug and alcohol use and abuse.
“We all carry a stereotype with us in our brain of what a typical substance user looks like,” she said. “For so many people we know that it is stigma that keeps them away from the very care they need.
“So I think it is really time that we start to have open and honest conversations in our communities, and destigmatize not only substance abuse, but also the people who use substances.”
She added the federal government believes one of the best ways to combat substance abuse is to partner with and provide funding to local organizations that work with drug users, and those dealing with substance abuse issues.
“Through Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program and this call for proposals we are working with community-based organizations to provide much-needed support to those that need it, reducing harms and reducing deaths,” Hajdu said.
“These organizations are truly dedicated to improving the outcomes of this overdose crisis by using their expertise and experience to reach people that use substances, based on the unique needs of the people in their communities.”
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun