PC government votes against ban on pill presses in Manitoba

Manitoba NDP accuses government of secrecy, demands release of health-care reports

Manitoba's PC government voted against an NDP bill to ban pill presses on Thursday — the day after the MLA who introduced it attended the funeral for a cousin who recently died from an overdose of illicit drugs.

NDP MLA Matt Wiebe introduced the bill last November. It would have limited the ownership and possession of pill presses in the province, which can be used to to illegally manufacture pills containing fentanyl and carfentanil. The bill would have allowed only pharmacists and other authorized people to possess the presses.

The bill took on added personal significance with the death of his cousin.

"We are still grieving. It is a a lot to take in. It's not new that she had issues with her addictions, but we think that this helps to highlight how important it is that the province take whatever steps it can now to address this issue … and hopefully make some positive changes that will save some lives," Wiebe told reporters after the vote.

Wiebe says the issue has also came to him from other families who have lived similar experiences.

"When they came into contact with fentanyl and carfentanil, that's what ended up being the fatal decision in their lives. And it's heartbreaking for all those families, and my family is just one of those families that's being affected," Wiebe said.

He said the proposed legislation was "just one small step" that the PC government could have taken to address the opioid crisis.

Last year, there were at least two dozen opioid-related deaths reported in Manitoba.

PCs want Canada-wide ban

"It is frustrating. Quite frankly, it's surprising," Wiebe said. 

"This has been modelled on a bill that was introduced in Alberta by a Conservative opposition and an NDP government that worked together and passed this bill unanimously. We feel this is a model we could have followed here," Wiebe said.

Wiebe says the NDP's bill would have worked in conjunction with coming federal legislation.

"What we are talking about is giving law enforcement and first responders the ability, once they find a pill press, to proactively act and shut down these illicit drug labs," Wiebe said. 

Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen has previously said he would prefer to see a national ban on pill presses, as opposed to a provincial one.

Goertzen said a Canada-wide ban would be more effective because the presses are available across the country.

Wiebe admitted restricting pill presses isn't a complete solution to the opioid crisis, but says the government should take any action it can.

"It's distressing that the Pallister government refused to pass this bill to help keep pill presses out of the hands of dealers," Wiebe said.