Man in meth psychosis turned away at HSC after trying to access mental health beds

A recovering crystal meth addict says an experience during a recent relapse left him suicidal after he went to Health Sciences Centre trying to access beds added to the mental health unit to help with people in the grip of drug psychoses, only to be told that no such beds exist.

Beds were added to mental health unit to address growing meth problem

A used needle on a rainy street in Winnipeg: everyday evidence of Winnipeg's methamphetamine problem. (Bert Savard/Radio-Canada)

A recovering crystal meth addict says an experience during a recent relapse left him suicidal after he went to Health Sciences Centre trying to access beds added to the mental health unit to help with people in the grip of drug psychoses, only to be told that no such beds exist.

Shane, who asked that his last name not be used to protect his privacy, says he had been largely off crystal meth for six months when he relapsed in early March. On March 8, he returned to Morberg House, a St. Boniface transition facility where he had stayed previously.

At the time, Shane says, he was experiencing hallucinations and believed others were out to get him. Staff at Morberg House wouldn't admit him.

A fire in January caused by a client in meth psychosis forced Morberg House to change its safety policies, so staff told Shane he could go to HSC, where they believed he could access six beds added to the mental health unit to help people like him.

"It took everything in me to do it," Shane recalled, "but I made myself go there and I sat there for four hours and then I talked to the psych nurse and he looked me and he said, 'We don't have such a thing." 

Instead, Shane says, the nurse referred him to the detox unit at Main Street Project.

However, Marion Willis, executive director of St. Boniface Street Links, which runs Morberg House, says MSP won't accept people in meth psychosis who might pose a danger to other clients.

MSP executive director Rick Lees says they do accept people who are detoxing from methamphetamine, and staff can administer the drug olanzapine as an anti-psychotic at the outset.

"However, if psychosis becomes dangerous to the client and/or staff we will transport to hospital," Lees said in an emailed statement.

A spokesperson for MSP says staff refer clients to HSC when they are deemed too dangerous for the detox unit.

Mental health beds added

In January, after a woman froze to death outside and a man jumped to his death after they both went to hospital seeking help while high on meth, Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen released a statement saying that the beds at the HSC mental health unit had been added "in an effort to address the growing numbers of patients presenting to emergency departments with psychosis resulting from methamphetamine use."

In the grip of psychosis, Shane says, he couldn't bring himself to go to MSP. After being turned away from HSC, Shane says, he continued using meth and eventually returned to Morberg House. Staff let him in, but he immediately went to his room and took an overdose of his prescribed mental health medication.

We're just grasping at straws here. There's no place, there's no help.- Marion Willis, executive director of St. Boniface Street Links

Paramedics took him to Concordia Hospital, where Willis says staff discussed a plan to admit Shane to the crisis stabilization unit.

Shane says he wanted to go "because I'd been there before and I thought that might be a safe place for me, I guess, to regain my sanity so to speak."

He went back to Morberg House to gather his belongings, but shortly after they got a call: Shane wouldn't be admitted to the CSU "because of the vulnerability of all the other people that are in the unit," Willis said.

This set Shane off on another long stretch of consuming meth, including injecting the drug for the first time.

Several days later, he returned to Morberg House where staff again told him to go to HSC.

Marion Willis, director of St. Boniface Street Links, says she hopes to see a concrete and actionable plan soon. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

"We're just grasping at straws here," Willis said. "There's no place, there's no help." 

Again, Shane says, he was told no such beds existed.

This time when staff referred him to MSP, Shane agreed to go. He was admitted on Saturday, and discharged back into the care of Morberg House on Thursday.

He says the experience has left him wondering what help is available for people in the grips of a meth crisis, "an opportunity so you can come back to reality, especially if you're suicidal. Some people might kill themselves and not really need to. I don't know why I took all those pills, I didn't really want to die."

Willis says incidents like this damage the relationship with her clients. 

"We reassure our clients that there will be help when they get there, and then the client gets there and they're told no such thing exists. So it breaks down that trust the client has with us. It only underlines in bold what the client already thinks, and that this is really hopeless."

Health minister questioned

During question period at the legislature on Wednesday, Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard mentioned Shane's experience and asked Goertzen for an update on the six beds at HSC.

"How many more people will die before this minister will act?" he said.

Gorertzen responded by mentioning that members of his own family have experienced alcohol addiction, and saying that the government is listening to experts on developing new strategies to tackle the problem of addiction.

"Contrary to Dr. Gerrard's reckless and inaccurate comments, the six additional mental health beds at HSC are in use and have been in use without interruption since being announced in January," Goertzen said in an emailed statement to CBC News.

Willis, who was in the public gallery during question period, calls Goertzen's response discouraging.

"I think what was really alarming for me, also, was just how far removed he seems to be from the realities and the  truth of what we're all facing," she said. 

Meth users assessed at hospital: WRHA

A spokesperson for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority says  the authority couldn't comment on the specifics of Shane's case, but said anyone who turns up at a hospital showing signs of meth psychosis would be assessed by staff in the emergency department.

"Not all patients who have used methamphetamine exhibit signs of psychosis or require admission.  After the assessment and interventions in ED are complete and the patient deemed to be not psychotic [or the psychosis has resolved], patients who request detox services are referred to MSP," she said.

After six days at MSP, Shane says, his head is clearer and he feels lucky to be alive.

"If I would have kept going and if I didn't gather my wits on my own and just make myself go to the hospital for the last time, there's a good chance I'd be dead right now," he said.

If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts or having a mental health crisis, there is help out there. Contact the Manitoba Suicide Line toll-free at 1-877-435-7170 (1-877-HELP170) or the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-688-6868.


Cameron MacLean is a journalist for CBC Manitoba living in Winnipeg, where he was born and raised. He has more than a decade of experience reporting in the city and across Manitoba, covering a wide range of topics, including courts, politics, housing, arts, health and breaking news. Email story tips to