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Arlene Last-Kolb, who lost her son Jesse to an overdose, is deeply affected by new data on drug-related deaths, knowing the pain these deaths bring to families. The Chief Medical Examiner’s office reported 445 drug-related deaths in Manitoba in 2023, an increase from 418 the previous year. Last-Kolb emphasizes the importance of recognizing that each number represents a person and a family. Addictions minister Bernadette Smith acknowledges the concerning increase and states that the government is focused on harm reduction initiatives, including plans for supervised consumption sites and drug testing machines to combat substance abuse.

Advocates like Marion Willis of St. Boniface Street Links believe that a more comprehensive approach is needed to address the larger crises contributing to addiction, including mental health, homelessness, and youth violence. Last-Kolb also calls for a holistic strategy involving all levels of government. She stresses that harm reduction alone is not enough and highlights the importance of safe supply as a critical consideration for parents. She points out that the risk of a single pill taken on a weekend could prove fatal for a young person, emphasizing the urgent need for intervention to protect vulnerable individuals at risk of overdose.

In light of the escalating drug-related deaths, Last-Kolb proposes declaring a state of emergency to prioritize saving lives and preventing further tragedies. She questions the acceptability of the current death toll and emphasizes the profound impact that losing a loved one to addiction can have on families. Last-Kolb shares her personal experience of losing her 24-year-old son, who had his own aspirations and dreams. She urges families and communities to come together to fight against the devastating effects of drug addiction and preventable deaths. Despite the immense grief and difficulty of advocating after losing a child, Last-Kolb emphasizes the importance of standing up against this crisis and demanding action from authorities.

As the government prepares to announce details in the upcoming budget, advocates are calling for a more aggressive response to address the root causes of addiction and prevent further tragedies. The urgency of the situation is underlined by the increasing number of drug-related deaths, prompting a call for collaborative efforts between various sectors to develop a comprehensive plan to combat addiction and related crises. The need for immediate action, including the establishment of safe consumption sites and accessible services for those struggling with substance abuse, is crucial in saving lives and addressing the complex challenges faced by individuals and families impacted by addiction. Last-Kolb and other advocates are pushing for a united front in combating the addiction crisis and advocating for meaningful change to prevent future losses and support those in need of assistance.

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