Mom 'betrayed' by lack of help in Manitoba for son's opiate addiction

A former Winnipegger was able to get the help he needed for his opiate addiction within hours of moving to British Columbia, says the man's mother, who is angry her son did not receive the same level of care in Manitoba.

Son received medical treatment quickly after moving to British Columbia, his mother says

The mother of a Winnipeg man who has been struggling with an addition to fentanyl and other opiates says her son received medical attention within hours of arriving in British Columbia. (CBC)

A former Winnipegger was able to get the help he needed for his opiate addiction within hours of moving to British Columbia, says the man's mother, who is angry her son did not receive the same level of care in Manitoba.

"It's very hard to describe the amount of anger and frustration that I felt," said the mother, who CBC News is identifying only by her first name, Samantha.

"I felt betrayed. I felt that Manitoba health services were picking and choosing who got to live and who got to die, and that remains the way that it is until this is dealt with."

Samantha's son was a close friend of Adam Watson, 27, who died from his addiction to opiates on Feb. 6.

Watson's parents told CBC's Information Radio on Friday that while they're still waiting for lab results, they believe Adam was high on fentanyl when he died.

Watson was one of four friends from the same Riverview neighbourhood who died from opiate addictions in the past two years, according to his parents, who spoke publicly about the lack of help for Manitobans seeking help.

Samantha said she was terrified her son would become the fifth among the same group of friends to die.

'Unable to get any help'

She said he opened up about his addiction to "oxys" — oxycontin and oxycodone— about six years ago, not long after he started using the drug with friends.

Samantha said her son wanted to "get off the oxys and start living a normal life," but kicking the habit on his own proved to be difficult.

"It had taken over to the point where he wasn't just having a party with it. It became essential for him to have a normal day-to-day life and he was having a lot of problems trying to get rid of this addiction because he would go through withdrawal," she said.

"He was in his early 20s and he was an adult, absolutely unable to get any help for it," she added. "And everyone was, of course, using around him as well, so it was very difficult and nobody really knew anything about it."

The parents of Adam Watson, Christine Dobbs and Lang Watson, said their son tried to get help with his fentanyl addiction but the medical treatment he needed was not available in Winnipeg. (CBC)
Samantha said in Winnipeg, her son had to wait to access a methadone program, and then he faced more challenges once he got in.

"He had to go daily to one of two clinics, and both of those clinics have a waiting list and only take about 50 or 80 people in for treatment. So consequently what happens is they all line up outside, waiting to get into the methadone clinic at nine o'clock. There's no option for different times, that sort of thing, initially," she said.

"They're expected to go to one of these clinics, basically being lined up outside where everyone can see them, underneath the sign of the methadone clinic, and wait for their turn."

Samantha said her son could not afford to take time off work every morning for four months to line up for methadone treatment.

"So he went back to using again. But little known to us, he had also started doing fentanyl," she said.

Help within 4 hours in B.C.

Watson's death was a turning point, said Samantha, who then moved her son to B.C.

I wish we could have done this long ago, but that's just not available in Manitoba.- Samantha, mother of friend of Adam Watson

"It absolutely crushed him and it also drove him to seek help and agree to seek help, but not in Manitoba," she said.

"We flew him here to B.C. and we got help within four hours; medical help."

Samantha said B.C. health professionals told her that her son would need immediate medical attention as he withdrew from fentanyl, as he could otherwise suffer from seizures or heart failure.

"You cannot withdraw from fentanyl by just willpower alone. This is a medical issue," she said.

These days, Samantha said her son is receiving counselling and taking daily methadone treatments.

"The methadone is available here at the pharmacy, so he can go 24 hours … and the pharmacist just simply dispenses it to him. He's not lining up, being pointed out, you know, having perhaps potential or existing employers seeing him standing in a methadone line," she said.

"He is hopeful because here, there is no stigma. It's not considered a moral failing, it's considered a medical problem."

Samantha added that her son is gaining weight these days, and he has the support of his family and others.

"I wish we could have done this long ago, but that's just not available in Manitoba," she said.

"Winnipeg is not the only city that has this epidemic going on, and it needs immediate attention. This is a national emergency, and nothing's being done. No help is being offered, nothing."

Manitoba wait times up to six months

The Addictions Foundation of Manitoba provides opiate replacement therapy, along with private clinics across the province. 

Dr. Ginette Poulin, the medical director for the foundation's Methadone Intervention and Needle Exchange program, said wait times for opiate replacement therapy at the foundation vary from a few days to six months. 

"They're not told OK, goodbye," Poulin said of people who have to wait months for treatment. "They are assessed by our intake personnel who is a nurse. They are provided with a list of information of options that they can use in the interim."

Poulin said it's not only pharmacies in B.C. that carry methadone. Physicians in Manitoba who have gone through special training and received a license can prescribe methadone and certain pharmacies will carry it, Poulin said. 

Patients aren't required to wait in line outside to access the foundation's methadone program, Poulin said. 

"We take very strongly the aspect of patient confidentiality," she said.

The foundation is looking at beefing up programs for opiate addicts to beat waitlists and advocating at the government level, Poulin said.

Last month the provincial government announced it's creating a task force to raise awareness of the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl. The province-wide response includes the distribution of naloxone kits by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

"Us ourselves we have recruited three new physicians within the last two months," said Poulin. "We're actually also moving our services to a larger facility, which could accommodate more."

Poulin said she feels discouraged by Samantha and her son's story. 

"It appears they were unable to access the resources that they required at that time or were for whatever reason, inappropriately placed within the system," she said.

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