December 14, 2018

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Health minister promises response to meth crisis coming

Maniotba Health, Seniors and Active Living Minister Cameron Friesen is not happy with the speed of his government's response to the meth crisis.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Maniotba Health, Seniors and Active Living Minister Cameron Friesen is not happy with the speed of his government's response to the meth crisis.

Manitoba's new health minister says he's "not comfortable at all" with the speed at which governments across the country, including his own, have dealt with the meth crisis.

Cameron Friesen, who assumed the role in August, said the province would announce new initiatives this fall to deal with an issue that he said occupies much of his time.

"I can tell you that on this day, arguably half of my day has been occupied by this challenge," he told a news conference late Wednesday. "I take this very seriously. I have an obligation as the minister to listen well, to learn fast and to act. I ask Manitobans for their patience as we move down this road."

Friesen met with reporters to respond to allegations by the union that represents security officers at Health Sciences Centre that staff lack the training, equipment and the authority to deal with violence from patients who have drug-induced psychosis.

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Manitoba's new health minister says he's "not comfortable at all" with the speed at which governments across the country, including his own, have dealt with the meth crisis.

Cameron Friesen, who assumed the role in August, said the province would announce new initiatives this fall to deal with an issue that he said occupies much of his time.

"I can tell you that on this day, arguably half of my day has been occupied by this challenge," he told a news conference late Wednesday. "I take this very seriously. I have an obligation as the minister to listen well, to learn fast and to act. I ask Manitobans for their patience as we move down this road."

Friesen met with reporters to respond to allegations by the union that represents security officers at Health Sciences Centre that staff lack the training, equipment and the authority to deal with violence from patients who have drug-induced psychosis.

The minister disputed the assertions by the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union.

"Security personnel are highly trained, especially at HSC," he said. "I would say that those individuals have the highest level of training."

Friesen said many security guards employed in hospitals are former police officers or have military training. "They also undertake ongoing and annual training upgrades where they learn skills like verbal de-escalation and how to intervene in specific situations," he said.

Manitobans "need to know that if they need to use emergency room services that it is safe," he added.

In a Sept. 25 letter to Friesen and Justice Minister Cliff Cullen, union president Michelle Gawronsky wrote: "We need to see urgent attention and action.

"...With the increased use of meth(amphetamine) and opioids, drug-induced psychosis has resulted in a spike of violent situations involving patients and security staff at HSC."

Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union president Michelle Gawronsky, right, cites increased use of meth(amphetamine) and opioids as the reason drug-induced psychosis has resulted in a spike of violent situations involving patients and security staff at HSC.

STEVE LAMBERT / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union president Michelle Gawronsky, right, cites increased use of meth(amphetamine) and opioids as the reason drug-induced psychosis has resulted in a spike of violent situations involving patients and security staff at HSC.

It pointed to two "dangerous attacks" at HSC that made headlines: the corrections officer who was stabbed with surgical scissors in January and the security officer who was stabbed with a syringe full of blood in June. Neither incident resulted in a serious, physical injury, the letter said.

The examples illustrate the violent situations officers face every day. It's not uncommon for them to be kicked, punched or spit upon or to come into contact with dangerous items such as knives, the union said.

HSC security officers are "getting mixed messages" and feel pressured to intervene in situations before someone is seriously injured but don't have the authority and power to do so, the letter said. The letter asked for the officers to have their legal status elevated so they have the authority to intervene in violent situations. That would require more training and possibly more equipment.

The province's children's advocate said last week she is encountering an increasing number of youth who are addicted to meth, and she feels the province is lagging in providing treatment while "stuck in an ideological debate" about harm-reduction approaches.

Daphne Penrose said she has observed problems with access to mental health and addictions services while working with children and youth.

"We have to set aside our own comfort levels as adults and service providers and listen to the voices of young people. They don't want to be dying from their addictions — they want our help," she said.

Penrose said there has been a "skyrocketing" number of meth-related overdoses, and noted the number of meth-related deaths in Manitoba doubled in the last year alone.

The province introduced plans for five rapid access to addictions medicine clinics in May, but the drop-in facilities are for adults only and operate on a limited basis.

NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine blamed Premier Brian Pallister for a lack of action in dealing with meth and opioids addiction, accusing him of letting ideology get in the way of good ideas, such as safe injection sites.

"He has repeatedly stood against safe injection sites even though the research has shown time and time and time again across the country... that this is a good way and a productive way to deal with this crisis."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Read full biography

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Reporter

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

Read full biography

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History

Updated on Wednesday, September 26, 2018 at 7:50 PM CDT: changes wording in first sentence

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