Winnipegger battling addiction says RAAM clinic turned him away

The province saw a large increase in overdose deaths in 2020 compared to 2019, and one addiction recovery organization said the problem is only getting worse.

One option for people struggling with opioid addiction is a Rapid Access to Addictions Medication clinic, or RAAM clinic.

Those clinics offer help without an appointment or referral, but some people say they were turned away at the door.

Less than two weeks ago, Katie Robson and her partner Spyder Porth were living in a tent near the Seine River.

The two are battling addictions to fentanyl, and reached out to St. Boniface Street Links for help in getting sober.

Last Tuesday, they lined up at one of Winnipeg’s RAAM clinics to get help but when Robson went in Porth didn't follow.

"Then all of a sudden other people were coming in, not my boyfriend. So, I asked, 'Where's Spyder? Where's my boyfriend?' and they said, 'Oh, he didn't get in’," said Robson.

RAAM clinics are drop in facilities for people looking to get help with addiction to high-risk substances like fentanyl and other opioids.

Suboxone is given to the patient so they can overcome their addiction without going through the pain of withdrawal symptoms.

Robson said Porth was turned away because the clinic didn't have the resources to help everyone in line.

"I wanted to do this together as a team, and for him to be turned away like that, it was unfair," said Robson.

Porth said he felt hopeless when he couldn't get into the clinic.

He said the withdrawal symptoms from fentanyl use isn't something you can just sleep off.

"Be sick for 10 to 14 days, and be extremely sick to the point where you can't even get up to get a glass of water. You know, it's deadly," said Porth.

St. Boniface Street Links does outreach with people struggling with homelessness and addiction.

Founder Marion Willis said the RAAM clinics do good work, but it's under-resourced and understaffed.

"We need RAAM clinics that are open all day long, seven days a week. We need 24/7 point of access," said Willis.

Data from Manitoba's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner shows overdose deaths were up 87 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019.

Willis believes the uptick in homeless encampments around the city is directly related to the increase in opioid use.

Manitoba’s Health Minister Audrey Gordon said the province invested more than $800,000 to expand programming at the city's two RAAM clinics, but that's just one of the services available for people battling addiction.

"There are many others at the community level and at acute care facilities as well, and we will look at how to build a better and stronger network," said Gordon on Friday.

Robson said she and Porth have saved 107 lives with naloxone kits between the two of them.

"Our lives matter. We're addicts, yes, but those lives matter," said Robson.