Waiting Game

Opioid addiction remains a problem but the city is fighting back

The number of people on waiting list for opioid addiction treatment has fallen since Winnipeg’s opioid “explosion” of 2010. 

Four years ago prescription opioid addiction in Winnipeg received a lot of attention. It seems as if the issue became rampant overnight - so much so that one of the province’s top addiction experts, Dr. Lindy Lee, resigned due to the province’s inability to help.

According to media reports at the time, Lee described the problem as an explosion and then resigned saying she couldn’t keep ‘plugging the holes’ to keep up people seeking help for addictions to such drugs as OxyContin. 

“I would still say that it is a concern today,” Mike Sloan says. Sloan is a pharmacist who works adjacent to Opiate Addiction Treatment Services (OATS) dispensing methadone. “Other opioids, like fentanyl, are being used more prominently today.”

Methadone is a synthetic drug used to wean people off of addictive opiates such as morphine, oxycodone and heroin. Sloan says wait times for patients in the city can be six months to a year; OATS is able to see patients within a few weeks.

“Patients not receiving treatment are at risk of continued opioid misuse, increased health risks like bloodborne and sexually transmitted diseases, more hospitalizations, involvement in criminal activity, and instability in their lives,” Sloan says.

The Addictions Foundation of Manitoba (AFM) provides free addictions treatment, including individual and group counselling for opiate addicts. Currently 57 people are on the waitlist at AFM; it’s a substantial number but much smaller than the reported 147 in 2010. The wait is shorter at OATS. 

Dave Grift, client services manager for eastern and central Manitoba programs at AFM, says treatment may last a lifetime.

“Success is people reducing their use of opioids, reclaiming their lives, and doing well,” he says.

Some people may taper off their use of methadone, while others will continue to use it, according to medical recommendations, Grift says.

Those who are on a wait list are still given access to resources before they receive treatment.

“We can offer other types of support while they’re waiting to get into a program… it’s not just, ‘I’m on a wait list, so nothing happens,’” Grift says. In addition, clients are triaged and some are accepted into treatment as priority admissions. 

These would be clients who are pregnant, use IVs, or have compounding medical issues. For those classified as regular patients, the wait may hinder their chances of rehabilitation.

According to Grift, one barrier to treatment is accessibility. The main treatment centres are in Winnipeg and Brandon and people coming from other areas of the province may face challenges getting to a centre.

“One of the things that I would suggest is more options available for people in their own communities,” Grift says.

Visit afm.mb.ca for more information.

Published in Volume 69, Number 12 of The Uniter (November 19, 2014)

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