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The Methamphetamine crisis: We need to learn from the Morberg House experience

On Thursday June 21, I had the opportunity to 

. Gerrard: My next question relates to something which I know is a big concern of the minister's, and that is the meth epidemic for the large number of people in Manitoba, an increasing number of people, often young people, in Manitoba, who are caught up taking and addicted to meth. We've had a lot of discussions and questions over the course of the last couple of years for the minister on this subject, but the approach to the epidemic needs to go beyond just an educational approach and hoping that will reduce it.
      I've spoken on a number of occasions about the activities that have happened, as an example, at Morberg House in St. Boniface, and I would hope that the minister would have an opportunity to visit and see the results. The minister's interested in outcomes of what's happening at Morberg House, and a number of these results were discussed on CBC several weeks ago.
      And the fascinating thing about Morberg House is that you've got a non-profit organization which has come to the fore in terms of trying to help people who are homeless, as in the course of that process realized that a high proportion of the people who are homeless have got problems with meth addiction and with mental health issues. And the proportion I'm told that they've seen in terms of meth addiction is   about 90 per cent meth addiction and about 10 per cent opioid addiction. So it's a big issue.
      The remarkable results have been that a high  proportion of the people who come in there with a meth addiction, after about a month or so are   no longer taking the meth anymore. The family‑friendly environment where people can feel more comfortable, The ability to, in an interesting way, transition people who come in and are helped to other housing opportunities so that they're able to address the homelessness as well as, interestingly, the mental health and addictions problems.
      There was a fascinating study which I heard, which was actually not in people but was in mice, that they had two groups of mice who were given meth and became, quote, meth addicted, and one was given an enriched environment, and, after a certain period of time, the mice no longer craved the meth and they drank water. And there was another group that were given impoverished environment, and in that impoverished environment, the mice continued to crave the meth.
      And there seems to be an aspect of meth   addiction which people like Marion Lewis are starting to understand and being able to help people. And we as a, you know, as legislators need to learn from people who are having some success. So I pass that on for the minister to comment on.
Mr. Goertzen: I don't know the study that the member is referring to; it does sound very interesting. And so if he has it, I'm happy to read it; if not, I'll look it up. I'm sure there's not that many studies on mice and meth. But I can take a look at, I'd be happy to look at that.
      You know, to go back to maybe what he was talking about earlier on about, you know, he feels that we're not moving fast enough on the issue of sort of changing the addiction side. Maybe that's the luxury of opposition, having spent there some time myself. But, on one hand, he feels we're moving way too fast on health reforms, generally in the health‑care system. On the other hand, he feels we're going way too slowly on changing of other parts of the health-care system. So it's hard to know sometimes if the member wants us to speed up or slow down, or if it just depends on the day.
      But I do think, you know, this has to be done in a way–we needed to wait for the VIRGO report, obviously. Why commission a report if you're not going to wait and act on it? And so we've got that report. We've taken–we took some action prior to VIRGO of course, when it comes to Suboxone and having that as a front-line treatment when it comes to opiate replacement. We took some action on the RAAM clinics, the rapid access to addictions and medication clinics, you know, knowing that that was something that was important and that was verified by the VIRGO report.
      So there has certainly been action that's been taken quite quickly where we've seen that there's evidence to do that. Yes, there's more to be done, and I share the member's concern when it comes to methamphetamine and the impact that it's having in Winnipeg. It's, of course, many components to that. There are Family Services components to it, there are Justice components to it and, of course, there are Health components to it. So it really is a whole-of-government approach when you're looking at something like methamphetamine, what it's doing within a community.
      I can report to the member that, you know, we have been looking for different ways to get support. The federal government announced in their last budget that they would have a fund available on a per capita basis per provinces for support to treat opiates. We engaged with the federal government to see if we could have some flexibility on that–knowing of course, opiates is the problem, but in Manitoba methamphetamine is at least an equal problem–and, based on vital statistics the member was quoting, perhaps a greater problem.
      Of course, when a family is dealing, whether it's with alcohol addiction, that is the greatest problem. When it–they're dealing with methamphetamine, that is the greatest problem. When they're dealing with opiates, that's the greatest problem. Whatever a family is dealing with is the greatest problem to them, of course. But purely on a statistical basis, you know, we asked the federal government if we could have some flexibility in that program to use some of the funding for methamphetamine-related treatments. It's a matching funding program, so there'd be a provincial share in that. The–I spoke with Minister Petitpas Taylor a couple of evenings ago. She indicated that that flexibility will be granted. And so I think that that's important. So we're looking at a–ways to be able to utilize that matching funding program. So that's under way.
      When it comes to the bilateral agreement that we have with the federal government that involves both home care or long-term care and areas of addiction, I think we're very close to finalizing that bilateral. Of course, you know, this would not be the time to announce such a thing, but we're getting close, I think, in terms of the finalization of that. And so there's–there are a lot of initiatives that are–been–have taken place on a purely provincial level. I'd cite the RAAM clinic's Suboxone treatment additional support at AFM, more beds for women in particular dealing with addiction through the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba.
      And then, in terms of our co-operation with the federal government, we're pleased to see that we'll have flexibility on the fund that was announced in the last budget. So it will be–we can also use some of it for meth-related treatments. And, you know, I hope that at some point, when it's the appropriate time, we can announce specifics around a bilateral agreement, as well, that will touch on issues around addiction.

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