Not only has COVID-19 overshadowed Winnipeg’s drug crisis, it has worsened it. Border closures, isolation, layoffs, the consequences of the global pandemic have increased the number of drug overdose deaths. Having recognized that harm reduction programs are an integral part of public health and safety, Youville started distributing free harm reduction supplies and naloxone kits from their St. Vital location.
Youville’s harm reduction supplies are packaged in premade kits. The supplies include four clean syringes, four sterile waters, alcohol swabs, as well as other materials to safely cook, inject, and inhale drugs.
The naloxone kits include supplies to safely inject opioids and four doses of naloxone, a medication used to help prevent death in a person who has overdosed on opioids. While naloxone is specifically meant to counter the effects of an opioid overdose, Amy LaBrash, a Registered Nurse at Youville, recommends that even those using drugs other than opioids have a naloxone kit on hand. “Sometimes drugs are cut with multiple substances and some of those substances might react with naloxone and prevent an overdose.” Amy also recommends naloxone because it doesn’t have any side effects. “If you give naloxone to someone who didn’t consume opioids or to someone you thought overdosed but who was actually just unconscious, naloxone won’t harm that person.”
There have been cases where people have injected themselves with naloxone after realizing they took more drugs than usual, but naloxone typically isn’t self-administered. As such, Youville distributes naloxone kits to people who use drugs as well as to people who have a family member or a friend who uses drugs.
Given that naloxone is a regulated item, everyone who wishes to have a kit must see a nurse. When it comes to harm reduction supplies, it’s a “grab and go” process. Although clients are free to interact with the staff at Youville, they don’t have to.
Whether someone visits Youville for a naloxone kit or for harm reduction supplies they can expect to be listened to and treated with respect. “The staff at Youville doesn’t have an agenda to push on its clients,” says Amy. “Our goal is simply to meet our clients’ needs, may those needs be abstinence, treatment, or safe drug use.”
Harm reduction supplies and naloxone kits are available for free at Youville in St. Vital from Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.