Province's meth meeting 'was pretty much a waste of my time,' frustrated Winnipeg advocate says

The head of a Winnipeg non-profit said a provincial meeting intended to address growing meth use in the city was a waste of her time.

'It didn't even come close to being a meeting that would be impactful anytime soon,' says Marion Willis

Marion Willis, director of St. Boniface Street Links, said the meeting on Wednesday was a waste of her time. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

The head of a Winnipeg non-profit that works with people seeking addictions treatment says a provincial meeting about growing meth use in the city was a waste of her time.

"It didn't even come close to being a meeting that would be impactful anytime soon," said Marion Willis, executive director of St. Boniface Street Links.

The non-profit organization provides shelter and access to supports for people dealing with drug addictions, and also operates Morberg House, a transitional house in St. Boniface.

Willis was one of more than 60 people who were invited to the Wednesday meeting, including representatives from Manitoba's Health, Justice and Families departments, and Healthy Child Manitoba.

A spokesperson for the province told CBC News the goal of the meeting was to "identify collaborative actions that organizations can take, including the Manitoba government and those involved in health services."

"The aim is to address key gaps related to supporting and treating Manitobans who are struggling with addiction to crystal methamphetamine in the short- and mid-term," she wrote.

On Tuesday — before the meeting — Willis told CBC News the meeting "should have happened a year ago."

But on Wednesday, Willis said it wasn't what she hoped it would be.

"It was pretty much a waste of my time. That would have been a great meeting for entry-level front-line workers who wanted to understand the challenges of meth … and to do a little bit of, you know, strategic thinking," she said.

"We're looking for right now a plan to improve the emergency response to these challenges. That's not what this was about."

Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen wasn't there, she said, and she's asked for another meeting with key decision makers instead of policy analysts.

The provincial spokesperson said participants in the meeting helped brainstorm "actionable solutions" to address gaps in services.

"In the coming weeks, collaborators in this discussion will be reviewing the findings from this meeting and will continue working together to implement solutions."

Drug stabilization unit recommended

Rick Lees, the executive director of the Main Street Project, told CBC News in an email he went to the meeting prepared to mobilize and had hoped to leave with an action plan.

"However the session was more about a facilitation of ideas and preparation of options for review [and] consideration by the minister," Lees said.

"That said, the group I was working in came up with a number of excellent ideas that could be implemented quickly and would make a difference."

Earlier this month, Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth told media the concern around meth in Winnipeg was starting to keep him awake at night at a news conference.

Meth use started to escalate in ​2016, police said, with 490 separate seizures totalling 11.6 kilograms of the drug.

That number rose in 2017, with more than 700 seizures amounting to more than 12 kilograms of the drug.

In just the first month of 2018, police seized more than 5.8 kilograms of meth, worth close to $600,000.

Willis said workers on the ground want to know what kind of changes will be made in hospitals, and whether policies will change to give medical staff more power to keep meth users who are in crisis from leaving the hospital.

She said people in the meeting agreed on the need for a totally new form of treatment for meth users.

"What I propose is a drug stabilization unit, and that's kind of a no-brainer," Willis said.

"We have a crisis stabilization unit, expand that. We have [something] for youth in crisis. We need something that's specifically for meth, the same model, but with a continuum of care attached to it."

With files from Aidan Geary, Susan Magas and Darren Bernhardt