Long wait times for treatment put female addicts in danger
Fewer beds mean women wait three to four times longer than men
Winnipeg women looking for inpatient treatment to battle drug and alcohol addiction must wait up to four to five months to be admitted, according to Addictions Foundation Manitoba (AFM).
The government-funded organization provides free 28-day client-centred treatment programs, as well as counselling services for both genders. While the inpatient programs themselves don’t differ for the separate male and female programs, the spaces available do.
Due to the unequal number of facilities available – 12 beds for women and 36 for men – 25 women were waiting approximately 120 days to start their treatment programs at the end of December 2009. Only 10 men were waiting approximately an average of one to two months.
Two years ago, Susan T. [name has been changed] was on AFM’s wait list while she battled a serious eight-month cocaine addiction. In September 2007, then 23 years old, Susan went to AFM with the goal of kicking her dangerous habit but was told she would have to wait until December to be admitted.
“It’s discouraging. You know you’re not going to get better,” she said. “If you have a serious enough drug addiction that you need to be in inpatient treatment, you don’t have four months to wait.”
Susan has since overcome her habit without becoming an inpatient with the help of AFM’s day programs, check-in phone calls and group meetings like Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous. Looking back, she knows the interim programs were important, but the ability to access isolated treatment would have been ideal.
“Once you’ve said, ‘I have a problem,’ once you’ve said, ‘I’ve admitted I need help,’ and you’re told ‘No, there’s nothing you can do,’ it’s frustrating,” she said.
According to addictions psychiatrist Jim Simm, frustration isn’t the only danger of having addicts wait months for treatment. The former head of the addictions unit at Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre said long wait periods can lead to increased addiction, less of a commitment to sobriety and even death.
“Substance abuse users don’t have a great patience for waiting,” Simm said. “Medically and psychologically, the sooner someone can get into treatment, the better. People need to be taken out of their environments and away from cues and triggers.”
John Borody, AFM’s CEO, recognizes the dire need for a change in the system.
He pointed to the newly approved treatment centre on Magnus Avenue as a solution that allows dramatic changes in the treatment system. By shifting the male residences to the new facility and having family and female programming move to the Portage Avenue location, instead of the converted residential house where it is now offered, more beds will be available for female clients, according to Borody.
While plans for the new facility are still in the preliminary stages and the location may take up to three years to begin operations, AFM is in the process of preparing alternatives to reduce the wait list, including new locations and altered programs.
“The status quo is not an option,” Borody said. “We need to do something because it’s not appropriate to have women waiting that long. Leaving it as is, is not an option.”
Published in Volume 64, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 11, 2010)