'No one knew the extent of the crisis': Mother says Manitoba's new walk-in addiction clinics offer hope

Referred to as rapid access to addictions medicine (RAAM) clinics, the sites will integrate opioid replacement therapy with primary care for addicts, as well as providing assessment, counselling and prescriptions of appropriate medications.

1st clinic now open on Bannatyne; Point Douglas location coming later this month

Christine Dobbs, whose son died from a fentanyl overdose in 2016, applauded the introduction of new walk-in clinics for addicts in Manitoba, but believes it's only the first step to help people suffering from substance abuse. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

For the six years that Christine Dobbs tried to save her son from the ravaging opioid addiction that would eventually claim his life, she blamed a fragmented health-care system — and herself — for failing her family.

They were overwhelmed by a disease they knew nothing about and an unqualified medical system, she said at a Wednesday press conference during which the Manitoba government announced the opening of its first walk-in clinic to help those in the throes of addiction.

"It's taken me a very long time to stop blaming myself, blaming the government and the health-care system, as no one knew the extent of the crisis," said Dobbs, after reading a heart-wrenching cry for help written by her son, Adam Watson, before he died from a fentanyl overdose in 2016. 

On Wednesday, Dobbs applauded the government for the opening of the first of five walk-in clinics specifically for people struggling with addictions.

"We need to be really happy that this is happening because it is that opportunity" for help, she said.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen speaks at an announcement unveiling the opening of Manitoba's first rapid access to addictions medicine, or RAAM, clinic. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Referred to as rapid access to addictions medicine (RAAM) clinics, the sites were first announced in May and are modelled after facilities in Ontario, which integrate opioid replacement therapy with primary care and provide assessment, counselling and prescriptions of appropriate medications.

The clinics, operating out of existing facilities, will offer walk-in patients access to intervention and community treatment programs and, in appropriate cases, safe drug replacements for opioids.

No appointments are necessary at the clinics.

Clinics will open in Brandon, Thompson, Selkirk

The first facility opened Aug. 31 at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg on 817 Bannatyne Ave. 

A second Winnipeg location will open on Sept. 13 at 146 Magnus Ave. in Point Douglas, while Brandon, Thompson and Selkirk will each have their own clinics within the next two months. 

"These new clinics will offer front-line help for Manitobans who are suffering from substance-related problems," Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen said at Wednesday's press conference.

The RAAM clinical teams will collaborate with primary care providers in the mentoring, reassessment and referral of patients.

Between the pair of Winnipeg facilities, they will open for two hours a day, five days a week.

"Even in Ontario, [the clinics were] also a partial service to start up with, and we'll be looking to enhance that service as soon as we can determine that this is having value in this system," Friesen said.

The Bannatyne RAAM clinic will be open Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday for two hours a day, while the Magnus Avenue location will operate on Mondays and Thursdays for two hours each day.

Recommended by Virgo report

The province has earmarked $1.2 million for the clinics, which were recommended by Manitoba's new strategy for mental health and addictions services, referred to as the Virgo report.

Friesen said the province believes this investment is a start, but still doesn't go far enough to eradicate addictions issues.

"The clinics we are announcing today are not intended to be the end and the summation of our government's efforts to address addictions in the province of Manitoba," he said. "Rather, I believe they represent a beginning point."

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has opened a new Rapid Access to Addictions Medicine Clinic. It's the first of five to come in the on-going fight with drug and alcohol. 1:57

Dobbs agrees, she told reporters on Wednesday. She wants detox centres, follow-up care for addicts and a public campaign to reduce the stigma that often causes people to hide substance abuse. 

"I hid my son's addiction for many years because of shame, and he was in my basement where he died because of shame," she said. "We need to talk about it more and more, that this is a disease and it is a health issue."

Friesen suggested the clinics would reduce wait times at other health-care facilities, but will not replace the services of emergency departments for the addicts most in need.

He wouldn't specify Wednesday which further measures might be needed to combat addictions.

Some advocates have called for supervised consumption sites, which were recommended in a draft version of the Virgo report but scrubbed from the final edition.

"I'm not saying that approach wouldn't provide value to someone. I think everything we do would provide some value to someone," Friesen said.

"I think as a policy maker and the minister of health, my responsibility is to take limited system resources, to listen hard to Manitobans, to listen hard to the evidence and then to make the best choices to put forward."​

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With files from Dana Hatherly