'There needs to be change': Manitoba addictions group petitions province for more supports

Overdose Awareness Manitoba is petitioning at Winnipeg city hall for long-term addictions supports and safe consumption sites.

Overdose Awareness Manitoba collects signatures at city hall to support long-term addictions supports

Carol Field, left, Arlene Last-Kolb and Rebecca Rummery are petitioning the province of Manitoba to improve supports for people suffering from addictions. (Wendy Buelow/CBC)

When Carol Field's son Blair died of a fentanyl overdose in 2017, she said she felt helpless.

"My heart is broken," she said. "I wish he could have got some help."

Now, she works with the advocacy group Overdose Awareness Manitoba to help other families dealing with addictions — hoping she can help them avoid the kind of tragedy she experienced.

On Tuesday, Field took that fight to Winnipeg city hall — urging passersby to sign a petition the group launched earlier this month, calling on the province to create medically assisted detox facilities.

That's the kind of support Field said might have helped her son.

"There needs to be change.… Not just talk, some real change," she said.

"It's too late for my son, but there's other people in this community that need help."

Rebecca Rummery, right, co-founded Overdose Awareness Manitoba after her boyfriend, Rob Ashley, died of an overdose while waiting for addictions treatment in 2018. (Wendy Buelow/CBC)

The group is also asking the provincial government to establish supervised consumption sites, cover the cost of the opioid antidote naloxone in pharmacies, support public education on overdose awareness and subsidize long-term addictions treatment facilities.

Field said existing addictions treatments aren't doing enough to help people like her son, who was 28 years old when he died.

She had taken him to try different supports — including a methadone program and a crisis response centre — but Blair never got the help he needed, she says.

"It took everything I had in me to get him there, and they just let him walk away," said Field.

"He got better a little bit, but he could never beat it. There was just nowhere to go."

'People are dying' on wait lists

There are already places in Winnipeg that offer addictions treatment.

But they often come with long wait lists that end up preventing people from accessing supports, said Overdose Awareness Manitoba co-founder Rebecca Rummery.

Her boyfriend, Rob Ashley, was put on a wait list for addictions treatment last year. He died of an overdose before getting an appointment.

That's why Rummery said the group is asking the province to fund detox, addictions treatment, housing and ongoing supports all under one roof.

"The main thing is having immediate access," she said.

"Honestly, 24 hours is huge to people.… People are dying while on those wait lists."

While the group has a list of specific demands it's asking the provincial and federal governments to meet, the petition is focused on medically assisted detox facilities.

"That's the first step for treatment," said Rummery.

'It's almost impossible to stop'

Shelley Bailey was walking through the city hall courtyard Tuesday afternoon when she saw the advocacy group's table, set up with stacks of petitions and 54 homemade flags commemorating people who live with addictions issues, or have died from overdoses.

"I signed this petition because there definitely is a need for treatment facilities to accommodate all the addiction that is going on right under our noses," Bailey said.

Bailey said she's been through addictions treatments herself, and knows how hard it can be to get help.

"You just get lost in it," she said.

"It's almost impossible to stop."

Bailey said the supports the group is proposing would be a huge help to people living with addictions — but so would just knowing they exist.

"A lot of people have given up hope," she said.

"If they knew that they could get a more permanent source of support, I think that would be really important."