More overdoses, fewer drugs: how the pandemic is changing drug use

By | September 26, 2020

WINNIPEG — The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many industries and supply chains, including the drug trade.

Winnipeg Police Service said the pandemic has dried up the supply of drugs that come into Manitoba, having unexpected consequences.

Marion Willis, executive director of Morberg House, a long-term recovery home for men experiencing addiction, homelessness and mental health issues, said back in May, she noticed a shift in the type of substances people were struggling with.

“Quite a significant reduction in the use of crystal meth,” said Willis, “But quite a dramatic increase in the use of opioids and to the extent it’s actually taking a lot of lives right now.”

Willis said when a person is experiencing addiction, they’ll replace it with something else if one substance isn’t available.

She said people have been switching to opioids because meth has been hard to find.

“They weren’t using it because they couldn’t buy it,” she said. “If they could buy it, there was a very limited supply, and instead of $10 a point, it was like $40 or $50.”

Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth said the travel ban put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 affected the supply of drugs coming into the city.

Although a lack of drug initially sounds good, Smyth said it led to an uptick in heroin and opioid abuse.

“The police service, in the first six months, we attended over 45 overdose events, 18 of which were overdose deaths,” said Smyth.

Smyth said that’s compared to just 39 overdose events (15 of which were overdose deaths) in all of 2019.

He said the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service administered naloxone more than 550 times in the first six months of 2020, more than double what it administered in all of 2019.

Main Street Project is home to one of the only detoxification centres in Winnipeg. Dawn Cumming, director of detoxification and stabilization, said in April it started seeing a change in meth use.

“Approximately a 50 per cent decline in methamphetamine use, as declared by people who use substances who are coming into our withdrawal management unit,” said Cumming, “But corresponding with that we’re seeing an increase in alcohol and opioid use.”

Willis said addiction is a complex issue, and it can’t be solved by removing one substance from the mix.

“For as long as we don’t address the root cause, there will always be people struggling, and there will be people that will look for something to ease the pain.”

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