Manitoba families find few detox beds for recovering addicts

For those wanting to escape the grips of a drug addiction, a detox lasting from a few days to a few weeks is typically the first step. However for those in the Westman region, it can be a nearly-impossible hurdle to scale due to a lack of available detox beds.

Families say options for detox outside of Winnipeg very limited

Families in rural Manitoba say finding detox beds for recovering addicts is hard. (Cliff Simpson/CBC)

For those wanting to escape the grips of a drug addiction, a detox lasting from a few days to a few weeks is typically the first step. However for those in the Westman region, it can be a nearly impossible hurdle to scale due to a lack of available beds.

For many, it's meant watching their loved ones detox without medical supervision in their own living rooms. Many treatment and rehab centres won't accept patients until they have gone through a detox.

It's a reality Antoinette Gravel-Ouellette faced just weeks ago when a close relative sought help for an opioid addiction.

"I called and I looked around and I made connections," she said. "I called everybody that I could think of and I was shocked to find out there was absolutely nothing in the Westman area."

Gravel-Ouellette said her closest options were in Winnipeg at the Main Street Project or Health Sciences Centre. After her family member was assaulted there last year while in detox, she felt it wasn't an option. 

"I honestly thought that there was someplace for them go to through detox before going into a treatment program," she said.

No detox beds in Brandon 

The Brandon Regional Health Centre does have detox beds, however Gravel-Ouellette was told they were only for recovering alcoholics. A spokesperson for Prairie Mountain Health confirmed that there are no designated drug detox beds in Brandon, but that patients would be admitted to acute medicine beds if deemed necessary.

The Addictions Foundation of Manitoba confirmed that it also does not provide withdrawal management services with the exception of a six-bed, non-medical withdrawal unit in Thompson.

Gravel-Ouellette is sharing her family's story in the hope of raising awareness of the lack of resources outside of Winnipeg for struggling addicts looking a place to break free from their addictions. 

She is one of many parents who have joined the newly formed Westman Families of Addicts, a place to share stories and resources. She's found many of the families she's connected with have gone though the same experience. 

"There was 30 people in that room all with their own stories ... I was shocked," she said. "Everybody has their own heartbreak from these drugs and how available they are in Brandon." 

"I was astounded."

For Jill, another Westman mom whose son is seeking treatment for a meth addiction, it's the same story. CBC News has agreed not to reveal her full name as it could lead to additional trauma for her son. 

"I didn't know how to handle him," she said. 

Her son reached out to her wanting help finding help.

"He called me up and said 'Mom I really want to get help to get off the drugs'," she said.

After making some calls, she too found resources scarce. For her, the only option she was given was a private clinic that cost in the thousands of dollars for a two-week stay.

Her son was also forced to detox in her living room.

"The detoxing at home was very tough," said Jill. 

"It was very hard on us all. Just the unpredictability of my son's behaviour," she added. "There was one instance where I had to call the police ... they ended up taking him to the jail overnight." 

Home detox 

With withdrawal symptoms ranging from very bad flu symptoms to full-blown psychotic episodes, a home detox can be risky without medical supervision. 

Both said that with meth and opioid use on the rise across Canada, a facility to detox is sorely needed in rural Manitoba. 

"People need to be able to detox before they go into their rehabilitation," said Gravel-Ouellette. [If] they haven't had time to detox ... they're too sick to participate in the program." 

Gravel-Ouellette wrote a letter to Manitoba's Health Minister detailing her plight. In a response, the province agreed that it is an area that is lacking in Manitoba and vowed to work on a solution with affected families. 

For Jill, going through the process for the first time was an eye-opener. 

"I feel like I'm learning more from them about what we don't have, I learned a little bit about what we do have," she said.

"But the area of what we don't have far outweighs the what we do have part."   

Both hope the community at large speaks up. 

"As community members, unless you're touched with it personally, you wouldn't realize that it's taking place," Gravel-Ouellette said.

Her family member is now in treatment. Jill's son has also gotten into treatment. 

"In a way it gives you a little bit of stamina and hope in the outcome, but the realization that it may take more than one time to get through it all," she said.