Manitoba

Manitobans waiting months to access drug addiction treatment programs

More than a year after police and health officials in Manitoba warned the public about the emergence of fentanyl and its dangers, people looking for help with drug addiction could be waiting months to access provincially-funded programs.

Province has not increased funding for services, despite warning from police about opioid crisis

The Addictions Foundation of Manitoba said as of October, there were 427 people, about half in Winnipeg, on a waiting list for residential programs. Another 120 people, all but a handful in Winnipeg, are waiting for a spot in the AFN's opioid replacement therapy.

More than a year after police and health officials in Manitoba warned the public about the emergence of fentanyl and its dangers, people looking for help with drug addiction could be waiting months to access provincially-funded programs.

In November 2015, the wait time for addictions treatment in the province could be weeks, according to a provincial spokesperson, who added situations are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, 

More recent numbers from the province are giving a more in-depth look at the issue. 

More than 2 months' wait for bed in provincial program

As of July, the average wait time to get a bed in a provincially-funded drug treatment program in Manitoba was 66.8 days. The province wasn't able to provide an average wait time for people accessing outpatient programs, but a spokesperson said there have been no increases in funding to the addiction system in the last year. 
The parents of Wesley Elwick, who died of an overdose at a transitional housing facility in October, are questioning if enough was done to prevent his death. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

That's despite the province acknowledging Canada's opioid crisis has arrived in Manitoba given the growing illegal use of fentanyl,  with the creation of a task force. 

The long wait lists for addictions help comes with news of another death due to a suspected fentanyl overdose.

"The addiction had him by the throat," said Kelly Hes of her son, Wesley Elwick. "But he never gave up trying and he did want to get better."

Elwick, 25, spent two days in the Health Sciences Centre for a nearly fatal drug overdose in October. When he was released, he was put in a cab and sent to a transitional housing facility, where he was found dead the next day. His parents question why he was released so quickly, without more support. 

Hundreds waiting for AFM services 

The Addictions Foundation of Manitoba said as of October, there were 427 people, about half in Winnipeg, on a waiting list for residential programs. One-hundred-and-twenty people, all but a handful in Winnipeg, are waiting for a spot in the AFN's opioid replacement therapy.

Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen wasn't available to comment Wednesday on wait times for addictions treatment programs. Reporters asked him about funding for more beds for residential programs in November, however. He said he was waiting to see evidence of where money would be best utilized first. 

Province waiting for information

"I mean one of the challenges that we're hearing is that for many who are dying of fentanyl or carfentanil, they never reached the point of reaching out for help," said Goertzen. "So, I've asked the department to give me some evidence. Are we getting a lot more people asking for support?" 
Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said on Nov. 30 that he wants more information about the number of people asking for addictions treatment before making decisions about new funding. (CBC)

Goertzen, who attended a national summit on the rise of opioids in Ottawa . Manitoba has committed to providing specialized education for service providers and parents, he said, as well as improving data collection in an effort to better target interventions and expanding a provincial naloxone distribution program. 

Jitender Sareen, health director of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's Mental Health Program, said it's important to try and speed up access for people with drug addiction who are looking for treatment, but an increase in demand is having an impact on services. 

WRHA 'stressed' with demand for help

"I think there has been a clear increase in rates of addiction in Manitoba, but also nationally and so we are stressed as a system in trying to provide the care for the people that need it,' he said. "We are, as the WRHA, working with partners and community partners to look at our resources and try to provide more care as well as to use new methods for providing access."

The WRHA oversees the Opioid Assessment Clinic, which provides assessments and helps patients connect with treatments specific to their needs. The WRHA said the wait time for that program currently ranges from three to four months, but people with serious mental health illness or who are pregnant are prioritized.
Jitender Sareen of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's Mental Health Program said there has been a 'clear increase in rates of addiction in Manitoba' and that the WRHA is 'stressed' trying to provide care for people who need it. (CBC)

Sareen said treatment for people facing opioid addiction can include the use of medications, along with psycho-social supports, physiological therapies and residential programs. 

He said public education about issues surrounding drug addiction can also help improve treatment. 

"I think it's really important to have the primary care physicians being more aware of opiate addiction," said Sareen. "How to both assess it and treat it, because they're the centre of providing care."


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