The meth crisis in Winnipeg is impacting a sense of security for those who live here: Nearly four out of five -- 79 per cent -- of those surveyed recently said they feel less safe due to the drug’s rising presence in the city.

Mary Agnes Welch, senior researcher with Probe Research, said the spike in concern comes after years of decreasing or stable attitudes. “And I think part of it is this really visceral worry about meth,” she said.

“Winnipeggers are talking, in my own neighbourhood, we’re talking about this increase in petty crime, but also perhaps occasionally violent crime, related to people with addictions.”

The poll of 653 Winnipeg residents, conducted by Probe Research with CTV Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Free Press between Sept. 17 and 28, found anxiety over meth is prevalent across all regions of Winnipeg, with at least 75 per cent of respondents in all areas reporting increased concern over personal safety due to the highly addictive stimulant.

“This isn’t just a core issue, it’s not just an inner-city issue. This is a concern even in, kind of the outer suburbs. And it’s also particularly a concern for low income people, all over the city,” Welch said.

The poll found people with a lower socio-economic status are most worried. Among those who did not graduate from a post-secondary program, 85 per cent reported feeling less safe due to Winnipeg’s meth problem, compared to 76 per cent of post-secondary graduates.

When it comes to income -- the more money the respondent made, the less likely they were to report meth making them feel less safe.

Welch said meth has become a key campaign issue in the current municipal election, but the discussion has taken on a different tone than debates over crime have in the past.

“Because it is in some ways addictions driven, I think we’re talking about community solutions, addictions treatment, the right way to handle people who are genuinely ill with addictions,” said Welch.

“I think I’m a bit grateful to see this hasn’t become about crackdown on crime, more cops on the street – there’s a bit of that – but we are looking at this in a somewhat more holistic way than we have in past campaigns.”

The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points, 95 per cent of the time. Respondents were recruited using wireless and landline phone numbers to complete an online survey. The margin of error is greater with demographic subgroups.

Manitoba Liberals calls on province to declare a ‘public health emergency’ over meth crisis

On Tuesday the Manitoba Liberal Party called on the Pallister government to form a task force to address “an explosion of crystal meth use.”

Liberal leader Dougald Lamont said the province should declare a public health emergency over the drug.

“Compared to the magnitude of the problem, it’s tiny,” said Lamont, referring to steps the province has taken thus far, such as opening Rapid Access to Addictions Medicine clinics, also known as RAAM clinics.

READ MORE: Clinic offering front-line help for those with addictions opens in Winnipeg

Lamont said those kinds of services need to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“Meth itself is incredibly hard to deal with,” said Lamont. “Part of this is -- it’s a different kind of drug than heroin; it’s different than alcohol, and we actually have to recognize that and update what we’re doing in order to cope with it. And very little is being done for prevention.”

NDP health critic Andrew Swan released a statement calling for another solution -- a safe consumption site.

“Families are calling for an evidence-based approach – a safe consumption site that meets people where they are and connects them to the supports they need,” read the statement, adding that leadership at the Main Street Project supports the idea.

The NDP was also critical of the current government’s level of response.

Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen said the spike in meth use, addiction and related psychosis has “the full attention of this government.”

He said in recent weeks he’s spoken with his federal counterpart as well as the health ministers for Saskatchewan and Ontario about the issue, as well as front-line service providers.

“We are putting our focus on finding the best solutions that will help the broadest array of Manitobans, because it’s a very real challenge. But we cannot do it overnight, and we cannot do it by ourselves.”

With regard to the Liberal’s call for a task force, Friesen said no good idea is off the table. But while he said meth use is creating significant challenges for the government to address, he shied away from the idea of declaring a public health crisis.

“There are many people who say today that meth is a crisis, and six months ago they said that opioids was a crisis, and six months before that it was something else,” said Friesen.