Quebec harm reduction programs await promised funding

Quebec organizations working to reduce drug-related harms are still awaiting funding promised by the province as they are struggling to maintain services.

Specifically, the Groupe de recherche et d’intervention psychosociale (GRIP) in Montreal has been waiting on $278,000 from Quebec since April 2021.

“That money is salaries, it’s services to the population,” said Magali Boudon, the non-profit’s director, in her interview with CBC News.

Although the funding delays have been partially caused by the pandemic and the impact it has had on the Health Ministry’s human resources, the funding is essential in light of the ongoing national overdose crisis.

According to data released by the Institut national de santé publique du Québec, there were 339 deaths caused by drug intoxication between January and September 2021. Although this represents fewer deaths compared to the same period over 2020, these numbers are higher compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Furthermore, a recent study released by a federal advisory committee on opioid overdoses and co-chaired by Dr. Theresa Tam and Dr. Jennifer Russell suggests that the number of opioid-related deaths could remain high and even increase in 2022.

The committee had cited increasingly tainted drug supply and limited access to harm reduction services among the factors increasing the intensity of the crisis.

GRIP deploys a mobile drug-testing unit to test the composition of drugs in order to inform individuals about the contents of their drugs. While GRIP has been able to rely on surplus money from last year to fund its outreach work, other groups have needed to resort to bank loans to pay salaries.

Currently, the mobile drug-testing unit can only be deployed only once a week in a parking lot on the southern corner of La Fontaine Park in Montreal.

Kathryn Balind, GRIP’s research and development officer, helps run the mobile drug-testing unit, which right now can be deployed only once a week, on Thursdays, in a parking on the southern corner of La Fontaine Park.

“It would be great if we had at least two more people on the team to manage everything,” said Kathryn Balind, GRIP’s research and development officer, adding that having a larger team would allow GRIP to deploy the van three times a week.

Boudon said she received assurances in a letter in November from provincial public health officials that the funding would be allocated.

The Health Ministry stated it would provide $15 million in funding for 2021-2022 for organizations working in harm reduction, which was secured over the summer of 2021.

“But it’s December and we haven’t received anything,” Boudon said. She also added that GRIP has started to work on securing more private funding.



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