Manitoba meth crisis under the microscope at federal committee hearing

A federal heath committee studying the nation’s meth epidemic heard from officials with the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba on Thursday, who painted a bleak picture of the crisis affecting the province.

AFM official say they're being underfunded as drug becomes more prevalent, toxic

Dr. Ginette Poulin, medical director at the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, spoke about the meth crisis gripping Manitoba at a committee meeting in Ottawa on Thursday. (Alana Cole/CBC)

A federal heath committee studying the nation's meth epidemic heard from officials with the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba on Thursday, who painted a bleak picture of the crisis affecting the province.

Dr. Ginette Poulin, AFM's medical director, told the parliamentary committee that the foundation is under-resourced, need more services to help users detox and more localized service in the province.

"We are seeing growing numbers of concern," she said. "48 per cent of persons seeking help for addictions are reporting meth as their number one substance of use within the past year.

"We're seeing a product that is certainly more toxic, more potent."

Poulin told the committee that services need to work better, together and that a solution is needed now.

"The longer this goes on, the more impacts we'll see in terms of that," she said.

Study underway 

Suzy McDonald, a representative from Health Canada working on the country's opioid epidemic, said work is underway to determine why there has been such an increase in use of the substance in the last three years.

"There has been an increase," she said. "We don't have exact data on who is using and why they are using and the how and why people are using various substances in Canada."

She's part of a group that has been tasked with creating a "drug observatory," which aims to collect data from various agencies like the RCMP, Canada Border Services and Health Canada, among others, something that hasn't existed.

"I believe that if we'd have a drug observatory earlier, we would've been able to predict that we had an opioid crisis," said McDonald. "And we'd be able to give you better information on what the methamphetamine use looks like today."

She said there were 35 deaths in Manitoba in 2017 related to meth, compared to just four deaths in 2016.

The committee was also told AFM needs more funding in order to properly tackle the issue, however Damon Johnston, AFM board chair, was critical of the Manitoba government, saying despite a new health transfer agreement, Manitoba's health regions and AFM have been asked to trim budgets.

Doug Eyolfson, the Liberal MP for Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley, said he also wants to know what's happening with funding the province was given for mental health and addictions.

The committee also heard that the meth making its way into Canada is originating in Mexico and is sometimes cut with other product or additives from China or India, a detail confirmed by the RCMP at the hearing.

Poulin told the committee that at least 50 per cent of people trying to access services in the province are Indigenous and that there's also more services for men than there are for women. She said in Winnipeg, there are 30 beds for women in the centre's 28-day treatment program, versus 36 for men and that it's nowhere near what's needed.

"We are grossly unmatched," she said.

Safety implications 

Johnston, who spoke alongside Poulin Thursday, commented on the safety implications meth has had and the direct impact he's seen the drug have on families.

"It's huge. You see it every day," he said. "People on the streets struggling to survive. Some die, so it's right in your face."

Poulin hopes to use the Rapid Access to Addiction Medicine, or RAAM, clinics as building points for increased services in rural Manitoba. Some, she said, have to travel long distances to access care.

"[A person] might have to go to The Pas, down to Winnipeg then to get up to Thompson [for treatment]," she said. "We know there is a lot of rerouting."

"This is something that is a growing concern," she added.