Part Two: The methadone program is an uphill battle, says Jared Evely

Melissa Jenkins
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The second in a two-part series

Editor's note: Part I, headlined "One man's addiction," was published in the April 1 print edition of The Compass and on our website (www.cbncompass.ca), gave insight into Jared Evely's experience with drug addiction.

To view part 1, click here

Jared Evely is very open about his former drug use and his road to recovery.

The 27-year-old Victoria resident took different opiates - Percocet, Dilaudid, Oxycotin and Heroin - recreationally over a period of seven years.

After moving home from Edmonton in 2012, Jared sought help from the province's methadone program. It was his first step to recovery, and he has been "getting clean" since.

Jared attributes his success over the past year-and-a-half to the program.

"The program had a super positive impact on my life," Jared told The Compass last month. "The first year, everything went as well as it could have. And I'm still not doing any drugs."

A little about Methadone

Those with opioid addictions can get into the methadone program - a program offered at the Opioid Treatment Centre (OTC) in St. John's.

"Methadone eliminates opioid withdrawal and helps stabilize the physical, mental and emotional well-being of (someone in the program)," Jackie O'Brien, a spokesperson for Eastern Health, wrote in an email to The Compass. "Individuals can refer themselves or be referred by a health professional to the OTC."

On March 17, there were 61 individuals on a waiting list for the program.

Methadone is a liquid in the opiate family that is prescribed, usually once a week, by an authorized physician and taken once a day in front of a local pharmacist.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Ontario describes methadone as a treatment for addiction, not a substitution - a person will not get high taking it. In fact, Jared explained, the treatment prevents a person from feeling the high from taking other opiates, as well.

To get into the program, a person must go through months of screening, blood tests and possibly travel long distances.

Travel a possibility

Not everyone can get a prescription for methadone, and even fewer can write one.

According to the Department of Health and Community Services, there are 36 doctors in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador who can prescribe methadone, but only 15 for opiate addiction. Each physician must have an exemption from Health Canada and complete a certificate in opioid dependency within three years of receiving the exemption.

Jared attends a clinic in Paradise, a roughly 100 kilometre drive from his hometown, on Fridays during the clinic's few available hours for methadone patients in order to receive a prescription. There is no authorized doctor in the Conception Bay North area.

He explained he has heard stories from people who hitchhiked from Stephenville and others that have been denied their weekly prescription because a snowstorm prevented them from getting to the clinic.

"It is possible that if an individual who required methadone treatment lived in a region that did not have a physician prescribing (it), then they would have to travel to the nearest physician," said Blair Medd, spokesperson from the department.

Those who don't make it to the clinic when their prescription is out likely won't get it filled without a physical visit to a prescribing doctor. Those people usually turn back to opiates to avoid the withdrawal symptoms.

There are currently some 1,000 people taking methadone provincewide, but the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Newfoundland and Labrador refused to release information on the location of qualified prescribers.

Doctor's visits

As part of the program, participants are required to give a weekly urine sample before seeing the doctor, although Jared said anyone can give a sample for a patient by walking into a hospital with someone else's MCP card. A patient can get thrown out of the program if they test positive for opiates.

"The doctor doesn't even check for track marks," Jared said. "He only asks if I've given my weekly urine sample, which he has the results on a clipboard in front of him. Then he verifies my dosage. 'Mr. Evely, are you still on 70mg?' Yes. And that's it. He gives me my prescription and I leave."

The visit lasts less than two minutes, Jared said. But after driving an hour into St. John's, waiting two hours to see the doctor and an hour driving home, he spends more than four hours getting a prescription.

"During a typical clinic visit, the individual would meet with their physician to assess how they are tolerating the methadone dose as well as to discuss any health or psychosocial issues," Jackie O'Brien said. "They may or may not complete physical examinations..."

Sometimes a patient will be required to give a urine sample at the clinic. Jared said many males find it uncomfortable because, at his clinic, it has to be witnessed by a female staff member.

"I understand they need to see that you don't switch the sample," Jared stated, but noted he doesn't understand why a female had to watch the males.

Jared also doesn't understand why a patient can't visit their family doctor for a checkup, and have them report the details to the prescribing physician for a prescription. He would like to see a communication system that is easier on those trying to get help, not penalizing them for lack of transportation.

Officials for the department confirmed they are looking at ways to telecommunicate with prescribing physicians.

"This service is (a) new way that could enhance access to physicians who provide methadone maintenance treatment," Blair Medd said.

Where to get help

Although there are mental health and addictions counselling offices across the province, Jared believes there is not enough public information for people to get help with drug dependencies.

He received help from his family doctor, but not everyone has that option.

"Honestly, I wouldn't know where to go or who to talk to," he explained. "There's no information. (The health authority) makes it so hard to get on methadone. You have to jump through too many hoops."

Jared feels lucky he got the help when he did, and said the result of not getting the assistance is one he has seen time and time again.

"Many of my friends have died from drug overdoses," he said.

Although he is stable, Jared doesn't believe he is any closer to being off the program.

"I feel like I'm still doing drugs," he stated. "It's just the more politically correct way of being a drug addict.

"I feel like I'm going to be on the program my entire life."

Those looking for drug addiction assistance, or for details on the methadone program, can contact a local mental health office by visiting http://www.health.gov.nl.ca/health/mentalhealth/rha.html.

Melissa.jenkins@tc.tc

 

Organizations: College of Physicians, Opioid Treatment Centre, The Compass Centre for Addiction Department of Health and Community Health Canada Doctor's

Geographic location: St. John's, Victoria, Edmonton Newfoundland and Labrador Ontario Paradise Conception Bay

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