Make RAAM clinic services more accessible

If accounts of people relating the agony of opioid addiction don’t prompt the provincial government to boost the capacity of treatment services, perhaps the financial bottom line will.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/10/2021 (468 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If accounts of people relating the agony of opioid addiction don’t prompt the provincial government to boost the capacity of treatment services, perhaps the financial bottom line will.

Addiction treatments save money. The funds required to extend hours at Manitoba’s Rapid Access to Addictions Medicine (RAAM) walk-in clinics would be a wise investment that pays off considerably by reducing addiction-related costs.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Access to RAAM clinics is currently very limited.

The consequences of opioid addiction cost Manitoba $221 million in 2017, according to statistics compiled by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addictions. The bill includes $149 million in lost productivity, $40 million in the criminal justice system, and $15 million in health care.

Obviously, saving the province money was not a front-of-mind motivation for the 20 or so opioid-addicted people lined up outside a RAAM clinic in Winnipeg when a journalist visited recently. They were understandably preoccupied with torturous withdrawal symptoms that resulted from staying sober for the 48 hours necessary to get treatment if they were fortunate enough to enter the clinic.

Most weren’t so lucky. A few were granted entry and received medication such as suboxone or methadone to help them begin the process of kicking their habits. The rest were turned away, because Winnipeg’s two RAAM clinics are allotted funding so pathetically parsimonious that their doors must be closed most of the time to patients looking for new appointments.

The clinic at 817 Bannatyne Ave. is open three days a week for two hours a day. One at 146 Magnus Ave. is two days a week, two hours a day.

When not allowed into the clinics, addicted people typically remain in the hellish hold of opioid reliance, at great cost to their health. An increasing number die. Statistics released last April show Manitoba recorded 372 drug-overdose deaths last year, an 87 per cent increase from the previous year. Most fatalities, 254, involved opioids, with fentanyl linked to 196.

Not only the opioid users are victims. Their relationships with family, friends and employers are often destroyed. Crimes against random members of the public are committed by addicted people whose better judgment is impaired by opioids and the need to finance an unending supply of street drugs such as heroin and fentanyl, as well as prescription painkillers.

A recovering Fentanyl user in Winnipeg speaks with Free Press reporter Larry Kusch with the agreement of anonymity- She shows us her last cooking spoons and needle that she saved during her use- She threw the paraphernalia out after the interview- See Larry Kusch story–Nov 10, 2015 (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

The arithmetic is clear. The money saved by opening the clinics for only a few hours a week is overshadowed by the medical costs of treating people for overdoses, and the criminal costs of police, law courts and incarceration. The annual cost of incarcerating a single prisoner in Manitoba ranges from $47,370 to $92,000, according to Statistics Canada figures for 2016-17.

The government was accused in the legislature last week of acting as if people who use drug have a “moral failing.” The NDP noted the PC government also short-changes other harm-reduction fields and hedges about providing safe consumption sites, which addictions experts say are an avenue for getting drug users connected with people who can guide them to treatment.

Perhaps the government’s inadequate support of drug-treatment options will change after the retirement of former premier Brian Pallister. The new leader, to be decided on Oct. 30, has a fresh opportunity to move beyond political and philosophical differences about treatment for drug addiction, and instead focus on the large financial costs of untreated addiction.

A government that prides itself on responsible stewardship of the province’s finances would grant the RAAM clinics adequate resources. When addicts are lined up to get clean, it’s in the best interest of Manitoba to help them.

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