Detox beds closed by pandemic need to reopen now, say Winnipeg experts

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a reduction in detox beds in Winnipeg and experts say it’s becoming extremely difficult for people with addictions to get help.

Marion Willis, executive director of Morberg House, said the city’s “drug epidemic” has worsened during the pandemic, but many detox beds are now out of service because of coronavirus restrictions.

“Detox is like the emergency room of a hospital,” Willis said.

“You wouldn’t tell somebody who goes to emergency at St. Boniface hospital, for example, who is having a heart attack to come back next week.”

Read more: Coronavirus and addiction: For people in recovery, self-isolation can be harmful

Physical distancing has temporarily impacted bed capacity at two Main Street Project locations.

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Currently, there are 34 dedicated beds in operation, which is down from the normal capacity of 55 beds, according to the latest numbers from the province.

“We are actively looking at ways to expand in order to get back to pre-pandemic capacity and beyond. This will require some capital investment and continued collaboration with our partners involved the continuum of care in addition recovery,” said Dawn Cumming, director of detoxification and stabilization at Main Street Project.

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“We have and will continue to adjust our capacity as the COVID-19 situation constantly evolves in Winnipeg.”

In 2019, Winnipeg Fire Paramedic crews administered naloxone, the drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, 1,404 times. In 2020, naloxone was administered 2,683 times by the service.

It’s just one reason Willis wants to see more detox beds, or at least the ones that have been been closed, in operation immediately.

Read more: Use of opioids, meth, mixed drugs on the rise on Winnipeg streets

“We actually need 20 beds and we need them right now just to compensate for the bed loss that has resulted from COVID,” Willis said.

The Manitoba government said the province offers a growing list of residential and non-residential treatment options at locations throughout the province, including at Health Sciences Centre, various Addictions Foundation of Manitoba programs, mobile withdrawal management services, as well as at a variety of privately-run organizations.

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A Shared Health spokesperson said dozens of initiatives have been implemented over the past three years, such as the establishment of Rapid Access to Addictions Medicine (RAAM) clinics.

“These initiatives, based on recommendations from several reports and action plans, are designed to help Manitobans struggling with mental health and/or addiction to access help in a more timely manner,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

Read more: Struggling with an addiction in Canada? These resources can help

But Willis said RAAM clinics don’t compensate for detox beds for many reasons, including capacity and hours of operation.

“Somebody comes out and tells you, ‘Sorry we’re closed now, you all have to leave,’” Willis said.

“What do you think that does to somebody who is trying to get help?”

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