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The Manitoba government addictions strategy

 On Tuesday May 25, I spoke to a private members resolution brought forward by the MLA for Dawson Trail on the government’s addictions strategy.  My comments are below:

Res. 26–Recognizing the Provincial Government's Addictions Strategy

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): I want to address a number of issues related to addictions and treatment in reference to this private members' reso­lution.

      One of the most critical aspects of helping somebody with an addiction is that the help is there at the critical time when they recognize that they want help and they need help. And I give an example of an individual who went three times to RAAM clinics seeking help and was turned away three times.

      The first time, he was turned away because he was only off opioids for 18 hours and not longer. The second time, after a tremendous effort and struggle, he got off opioids for 24 hours. He got there. He was in the line-up, things were going well, but then when he got to the front of the line, the clinic closed for the day and that was it.

      He had to recuperate, figure out what was next, get himself psyched up once again to go, and the third time he went he was in time. He was off opioids for 18 hours after a tremendous–for 24 hours after a tremendous struggle and a lot of pain, but then he was turned away because there were no RAAM detox beds available at the Main Street Project. I am told that there were other beds at the Main Street Project but because there were no RAAM-designated beds, he could not go there.

      This is an example of the current system–this was not very long ago–not working, and so there remain many areas which critically need to be addressed. It is vital that individuals who have addictions have somewhere to go that they will get help. And if it is not immediately detox, then it needs to be harm reduction, whether at a safe injection site or to somewhere where they can get maintenance opioids if they're on opioids as a step toward getting off and getting treatment.

      But there needs to be this path so that somebody is not turned away because that, for somebody with an addiction, is terrible and is one of the reasons why we have seen a lot of increase in opioid deaths. People need to be able to get in to detox when they are ready and when they need it.

      Second, that once somebody gets initially–treatment and gets through detox, there needs to be a seamless transition so that they go right away from their initial help to a second-step treatment and, following that, to supportive housing. Currently the resources are not nearly as well organized as they should be so that this process is often not very 'steamless' and people fall through the gaps at one place or another.

      There could be navigators to help people, and there should be navigators, there should be a single website with all these many resources available with the list of what there are in terms open beds and spaces so that people can find what is needed, and so that people can immediately transition seamlessly from one step to another.

      Third, there needs to be accountability. We need to be measuring results. We are measuring some results slower than we might want, but–for example, in opioid overdose deaths the number has dramatically increased. So, for whatever reason, we are going in the wrong direction under this government. We need to have those results, figure our what's not working, and fix it instead of just going ahead and saying oh, what we're doing is fine.

      We've got an increased number of sexually transmissioned diseases increase. Syphilis is going up. Again, we have an objective endpoint, it's going in the wrong direction. The government needs to be on top of this instead of just saying, oh, it's all good.

      We need to know numbers, how many people came for help actually got it, we need to know for those who came for help their status at one month, two months, six months, one year, two years, so that we can adequately assess how well programs are working and how they are not. We don't have this information now. We should have it and we should know what is happening.

      There is clearly an aspect of this which is important to mention, and that is that things were not going all that well under the NDP either. They did not succeed all that well in dealing with mental health and addictions. And so the Progressive Conservative government have had some problems to address, but in considering that the system was broken, they've actually made it worse from what we can see so far in terms in results.

      We wait for better results. We hope that better results will come, but right now the results have been going in the wrong direction. And so, until we start to see results going in the right direction, then we're not going to feel very positively about the current system of helping people with addictions and mental illness.

      So those, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are my comments for today. There is much work to do. It's not to say that there isn't any good work being done, that's not true, there is a lot of people working very hard but many people are frustrated because all the system is not together and there are too many gaps and too many people falling through the cracks and too many people dying because of overdoses and too many people getting sexually transmitted diseases and other consequences of addictions instead of being helped.

      So thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

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