Winnipeg - Manitoba Liberals are calling for immediate action by the Pallister Government, and the Health Minister, in particular, to deal with what is a genuine crisis in methamphetamine addiction that is killing Manitobans, putting people on the frontline at risk, and tearing apart families who are pushed to the breaking point trying to find help for their loved ones.
In the past month, we have heard from people across Manitoba that there is a meth crisis in their community, and that there are not enough provincial resources to deal with it.
We heard it from the mother of an addict in Brandon, who told us it is a problem in rural and northern Manitoba, and that it's impossible to access care. We heard it at the Main Street Project. We hear it from homelessness advocates and health professionals, who say they are seeing people from all walks of life who have lost everything because of their crystal meth addiction.
The Pallister government is doing virtually nothing to deal with a problem that is very serious and needs attention now.
Windy Sinclair recently froze to death after she left a hospital where she was to be treated for her meth addiction. She was one of many Manitobans struggling with a brutal addiction to a drug that is toxic, cheap, and leads to psychosis in its users, which makes them a danger to themselves and others.
What is needed is a safe place for them to go. But virtually no such places exist. Neither the Main Street Project nor hospitals will take them, and Manitoba's treatment programs are geared toward alcohol detox and 12-step programs - not meth.
The need is clear.
Manitoba needs an effective plan, to take people from addiction through recovery. When Liberal MLA Dr Jon Gerrard raised these issues with the Pallister government in the last legislative session, his questions were evaded or ignored. (Question Period - October 27, 2017)
We are not going to wait for the Pallister government to develop a plan.
This is what is needed:
Step 1: There is an urgent need for "Drug Stabilization Units" - spaces where people in meth withdrawal can be held safely. There is a need for about 40 spaces in Winnipeg. These involve a safe place and a private room with locks where people can be assessed, and a treatment plan developed. Patients would stay for 15-30 days. Police or Paramedics could take people straight there.
Step 2: There is a need for funding transitional housing with mental health supports in-house - a psychiatrist or psychologist, mental health workers and/or a psychiatric nurse who can monitor and administer medication for up to 4 months. Morberg House in St. Boniface is providing these services. However, additional capacity along the lines of what is delivered at Morberg House, is needed.
Step 3: People in recovery can move to their own housing with less intensive support for up to two years.
In addition, we need the Province to provide adequate supports so that people seeking treatment can get the care they need when they need it. This can be as simple as funding a psychiatric nurse or nurse practitioner at sites like the Main Street Project.
There must also be investments in prevention, including public awareness programs to warn Manitobans about the dangers of meth use. While the focus has been on opioids and the dangers of fatal overdoses from fentanyl and carfentanil, or from impaired driving related to cannabis, the province is silent on the deadly serious problem of meth.
Manitoba Government cannot plead poverty when the Federal Government has increased funding for mental health and for housing, specifically social housing.
The costs of inaction - both in lives and in money - far outweigh the potential costs of solving this problem. We have heard that meth addicts run the risk of freezing their feet because they can't feel them. We have heard that families are being torn apart not just by a loved one's addiction, but because the costs of private treatment are so great, it is breaking them financially.
Every single Manitoban has known someone with an addiction. It touches every family. This government needs to send a message to Manitoba families facing this struggle: You are not alone.
The Manitoba government must follow up with meaningful action to ensure that we have a system for treating addiction that is humane and safe.