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The Meth Crisis in Winnipeg - the Health Minister's response

On Tuesday April24th, I asked the Minister of Health in Estimates about his response to the meth crisis in Winnipeg.  My question and his response are below:  As we saw at the CBC Forum - Breaking Meth - last night, the Minister's response, as described below, has been appallingly inadequate to address the issues. 
Mr. Gerrard: In Winnipeg with the meth epidemic, there seem to be some issues.
      First of all, the police refer to the fact that the intoxicated persons act does not include meth. It includes alcohol and it's not sure that it will apply to people with meth.
      And second, that there is not a clear place, [with meth toxicity to take people] right? We've talked about a detoxification centre for people with meth psychosis, but that has been a problem for people to be able to get into treatment for meth psychosis, and I wonder if the minister could provide an update on these issues.
Mr. Goertzen: On the issue of the intoxicated persons act, we're just checking to see which department that act actually falls under. There's not certainty among officials that that is a Health act. It   likely would fall under Justice but we'll get confirmation on that.
      But if the member's looking to speed this along and get to the Justice Estimates, he's got my support in that.
      You know, on the issue of meth and the treatment of it, I–this is obviously an important topic, and I'm happy to put some further thoughts on the record about it. My friend from Minto, eager to see the VIRGO report, which I understand–and I give him no criticism of that; it will be released relatively shortly.
      Member may not believe me in that, but he can look at past history. I won't refer back to his own past history as the Attorney General, but certainly in my time as Minister of Health, we released the Peachey Report for the public to see. We released the  wait times task force report for the public to see.  The vast majority of the health sustainability KPMG  report has been released, and the remainder of it will be released, I believe, by the end of May. And we've committed to release the VIRGO report, and we will.
      So member may not like it, and certainly, every  time we release a report, there's a degree of criticism and scrutiny, which is acceptable and in fact welcome in a public democracy–the kind that we have–but it will be released.
      But when it comes to the treatment of methamphetamine, you know, I think that every jurisdiction is dealing with a certain degree of challenges here, though in other jurisdictions like maybe British Columbia, there is more concern on opiates.
      You know, we've had some officials–discussions with the federal government in particular when it   comes to some of the funding that they've made   announcements for treatments around drug treatment. We'd like that to not be limited to opiates but to be extended to methamphetamine as well. I'm sure the member would be willing to have that discussion with any contacts that he has in the federal government.
      When we look at the different options–you know, we've provided some options at HSC; we've provided some drug treatment options in Thompson. There's been additional resources put into AFM, particularly the women's beds available. There's been some partnering with private organizations like Tamarack as well, I believe.
      And I think we need to build an addictions system that is more flexible.
      So, certainly, the vast majority, or a good part, of the treatment that's provided now is provided by government. And there's great people doing good work in that system, but I find that it–in my view, it's a–it can be an inflexible system. It doesn't respond to–as quickly as we need it to respond at times to the different realities that we're facing.
      The discussion of whether it's methamphetamine today or opiates–I mean, it was only 12 months ago that the former Health critic wanted a provincial emergency called on opiates, and I'm sure, you know, there are those who would like a provincial emergency called on methamphetamine. I mean, the reality is, in the drug situation, it changes relatively quickly and we don't have the flexibility to change along with it as quickly as I would like to see.
      So I think that coming out of the VIRGO release, which the members will see, will speak more about that. But I think there is a bigger role for the Province to essentially ensure that there are standards in place, that those standards are being audited to, but that there's more commissioning when it comes to the service delivery of drug treatments. That's being done in many leading jurisdictions across Canada and in the United States, and it allows for a more flexible system. So, certainly, that's something that I believe is important and that we'd look towards.
      When I toured the Grace Hospital yesterday and their new emergency room, which will open in about a month or so, there's a recognition of those dealing not just with meth issues but other issues, and so there are secured areas within the emergency room to help those who are dealing with certain issues. And so that is something that is important as well.
      If I had more time I'd go on in some of the other thoughts that I have regarding some of the things that need to change in addictions. I can confirm for the member that the intoxicated persons act is under the Department of Justice, which probably the member for Minto (Mr. Swan) knew and was just waiting for me to confirm it.

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