Helping loved ones with drug addictions a struggle

Melissa Jenkins
Published on September 26, 2015
Photo by Melissa Jenkins/The Compass
The U-Turn addictions centre in Carbonear hosts a Narcotics Anonymous meeting every Wednesday evening for those affected by the drug abuse of family members.

NOTE: Names have been changed to protect the identities of the families involved.
On Wednesday, Sept. 2, The Compass was invited to sit in on a Narcotics Anonymous meeting with family members of drug addicts at the U-Turn addictions centre in Carbonear.

In the first two parts of their story, the families explained how they were sick of being blamed for their loved ones' issues and were discouraged at how easy it is for addicts to access drugs in the area.

But for those who have tried everything and went everywhere trying to get help, they feel like they're at their wit's end.

Seeing it happen

Jack has been using drugs for the past decade. He's been on and off of the methadone program numerous times over that period, but there's always something that brings him back to drugs.

Methadone is a synthetic opioid used as maintenance therapy for recovering drug addicts. The amount is reduced gradually until there is no opioids dependency. It must be taken in front of a pharmacist.

Even with a strong support system, Jack hasn't been able to successfully eliminate drugs from his life. But his family has also been dealing with the struggle.

"It affects everybody in the family to the point that I watched my parents' marriage almost deteriorate," Jack's brother Johnny told The Compass. "There would be drug dealers calling the house at all hours, threatening to kill Jack if our parents didn't pay them what he owed."

Mary, a mother whose two children are addicts, has witnessed a similar struggle with her family. Her children chose to move out of their family home and in with their estranged father because she had rules to keep them away from using. After they left, she often wouldn't know for weeks, sometimes months, if they were alive or dead.

"When you're using, you're not thinking straight, not making logical choices," she added.

Always trying

Johnny's brother and Mary's kids both started using because of peer pressure. But after so long, it was no longer recreational - it was an addiction they couldn't kick.

Once they reached the point of no return, each family began looking for help.

Mary tried talking with a social worker, but she said her children couldn't get help unless they voluntarily detoxed at a facility by themselves. Her son wouldn't agree to do that.


'Part 1 - Drug abuse hits home'

'Part 2 - 'We can't save them'

She also spoke with several drug counsellors and felt like they didn't really understand what her kids were going through.

"They don't really get them," she said.

For Johnny, it was consistent requests to get help. But since he was in his twenties, there's not much they could do but get him on the methadone program.

Methadone not working

Johnny's brother and one of Mary's children is on the methadone program, but neither believe it's the right decision.

While waiting to get on the methadone program, Johnny explained Jack had been prescribed Oxycodone, an opiate painkiller often abused by users. He was prescribed just enough to stabilize him until he got into the program, but he was allowed to take them home.

"Just like the methadone program, drug addicts should have to take their scheduled doses of Oxy or Dilaudid or whatever in front of a pharmacist," Johnny explained. "They get 30 days supply that's gone in a week. Then they have to buy more from the dealers. It's just not working."

Mary's child was also in the program several times. But she agrees changes are needed for the program.

"A major overhaul is needed for the Methadone program," she stated. "And it starts with our government. They don't realize that there's such a big problem out there with drugs."

She added that addiction is a lifelong battle, and entering the methadone program is only a stepping stone.

Johnny believes people are taking advantage of the program. He said the dosage is based on what the patient tells the doctor, so they could lie in order to access a higher dosage. This way, they may spend years getting stable.

There are currently 1,286 people in the methadone program and 100 people on the waiting list.

"Addressing the rising rate of opioid addiction is a top priority for the Provincial Government," a spokesperson with the Department of Health and Community Services told The Compass. "We recognize the areas where improved access to programs and services is needed and we remain committed to finding solutions for residents who need help.

A treament centre for youths was opened earlier this year in Grand Falls, and an adult addictions centre will open in Harbour Grace this fall.

In the end

Johnny wants to see more counselling options for families and addicts, like what is available at the U-Turn addictions centre in Carbonear.

"Family always feels like nobody understands," he said. "But there are people out there who do."

Mary would like mandatory follow-ups and counselling as well, especially for addicts.

"Once they're in recovery, there's nowhere for them to turn," she explained. "They could go right back to using."


Mary has been working on her relationships with her children and helping them stay drug free, and she expects there is tough road ahead.

"It's a very scary, painful ordeal for them," she said. "When they finally come off the pills and get it out of their system, they don't have the mental health and help to keep them off the drugs."

Johnny will continue to be there for his brother, but he knows it is going to be a long road. But he feels if more people stepped up, more could be done.

"I thought I would bury my brother before I buried a parent," he said. "If more people were open to talking about drug addiction I think there would be changes. But it's hidden."

For now, Mary will continue interacting with families she met through U-Turn, anonymously. Johnny will work with his family to keep Jack on the right track. But both know they are just getting started with their loved ones' recoveries.