Chasing the dragon 0
Terri Rodgrigues points to her son as a boy in a photo before he became a heroin addict during the All About Oxy and Other Prescription Opiods presentation hosted at the Haliburton Highlands Secondary School on Wednesday, May 30. Educators and service providers were given an education about opioids, which a family of drugs that have morphine-like effects. This presentation included a local pharmacist, the district manager of Mental Health Services at Trillium Lakelands District School Board,
Remember these "people" are someone's loved ones, says a mother of a drug abuse survivor at the All About Oxy and Prescription Opiods presentation at the Haliburton Highlands Secondary School on Wednesday, May 30.
Terri Rodrigues, the mother of an intravenous heroin addict survivor, was shaking when she took the stage as the last speaker in a list of guest speakers. Her anger and emotionally charged talk was in response to a police officer's reference to drug users, as "those people."
The South African who immigrated to Canada with her family more than 16 years ago shared her honest account, bursting any misconceptions about drug abusers, the treatments and the struggles.
Rodrigues paced across the stage set against a photo on a screen, depicting her and her son years before he faced death on a regular basis.
She talked about her son, Mitchell, who nearly died because of heroin, the challenges of living with an addict and described how drug abusers use not only the drugs, but also the loved ones in their lives.
"I also was an addict. I was addicted to my addict," she said. "I was addicted to try to solve a problem that was not mine to solve. I was complicit in it, but I wasn't able to solve it until he was ready to make that jump."
This candid account left the audience captivated despite the event being in its third hour.
Rodrigues was the last in a collection of guest speakers such as Suzanne Witt Foley, district manager of mental health services at Trillium Lakelands District School Board; Dr. Barry Mitchell, who offered insight in the methadone treatments for addicts; Tricia McCarthy, a Minden-based counsellor with Fourcast who gave the local picture of abuse; Peter Meraw, a local licensed pharmacist and co-owner of Minden Pharmasave, who offered insight in the history of opiates; and OPP detective constable Rick Dupuis. Dupuis explained the underworld of supply and demand related to opiates like oxycodone. The event highlighted the dangers of keeping old prescription drugs around and included a video with a collection of interviews from teenagers recounting their drug abuse, factors in using, misconceptions and how they lost their childhood.
Dupuis not only raised the hackles of Rodrigues, but also left the audience shocked by the difficulties facing law enforcement and the underground market of opiates such as OxyContin.
Oxycodone (sold under the brand name OxyContin), also known as oxy, kicker, hillbilly heroin, oxycotton, dill, 40, 80 and percs, is a time-released painkiller, but if abused can give a similar high to heroin.
The drug enforcement officer, who is responsible for the central east region including Barrie, Orillia, Peterborough and the City of Kawartha Lakes, said with drugs such as cocaine it's far easier to make an arrest since possession and use is illegal. However, with prescription drugs there must be the demonstrative intent to break the law. Police must see a transaction to make an arrest.
He said half of the investigated cases are trafficking of prescription drugs.
A recent arrest in Cobourg actually involved two Haliburton residents making a purchase of oxy, which was possibly destined for the county. Dupuis said this crime has no borders as criminals will leave the province to purchase or sell. The source of the drugs is double doctoring (getting two doctors to prescribe), theft from homes or pharmacies and over-prescribing.
On April 3, OxyContin was banned by Ontario and replaced by OxyNeo, which cannot be chewed and snorted to receive an immediate dose.
Dupuis said despite the ban there was enough lead-time that suppliers/dealers secured enough of a stockpile to last a while. People have already found ways to exploit OxyNeo despite the marketing that it is safer.
Tablets go for between $40 and $90 in this area, but up north in rural communities a single 80-milligram tablet can sell for $500. The cost, he said, means some tablets are quartered and sold. Where oxy is too difficult to get, many abusers are turning to older drugs such as heroin to fill the void since the ban of OxyContin.
Dr. Barry Mitchell said the most important question is not what the addiction is, but what is the pain being treated. Addiction must be dealt with like diseases such as diabetes, HIV and hepatitis C, he said. Management is the best scenario as there is no cure.
Methadone maintenance therapy (MMT) prevents withdrawal issues, lessens urges, introduces accountability and is a tool to "defang bad ideas."
He points out although 90 per cent of those treated will remain on methadone for life, there are 10 per cent who go off of it completely. And for those who stay on methadone it is a better situation, as the dosage is controlled and gives back control.
Area pharmacist Peter Meraw, co-owner of the Mindaen Pharmasave for six years, said things are improving locally despite the provincial picture.
"In my view it is getting better in recent years . but I think the problem with Haliburton County is the socioeconomic issues. It's also very spread out and there are a limited number of police officers to manage a huge area," he said.
Locally, he said, the supply is somewhat restricted since prescribers are far more judicious than when he first started.
"Our physicians in Haliburton, specifically, are very good. They're not aggressive prescribing narcotics. In other communities it's much, much worse in my experience," he said. "If someone in Haliburton is getting narcotics like OxyContin they're driving to get them."
Meraw said he has the certification from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) to provide MMT. His pharmacy accepts old prescription drugs for disposal, as this is one avenue youth are accessing prescription drugs.
Tricia McCarthy, a Fourcast addictions counsellor based in Minden, said it's a given that youth will want to experiment. However, protective factors such as support from family and loved ones can overcome contributing factors to turn to drugs to cope with depression or anxiety.
Being honest and treating them like adults helps, she said.
Choosing when to speak to your children, she said, is as important as the message.
Her clients tell her drugs are difficult to get here in Haliburton County since we're so far from the 401, which is regarded as an access point.
For information about assessment, treatment planning, individual counselling, community withdrawal management and family support in Minden call 705-286-4077 for Peterborough call 1-800-461-1909.
Rodrigues's son started with marijuana and came home smelling of it at 13. She reached out to her son, asking him and then searching his room to confront him. Both methods came up with nothing. Many of her questions were met with withdrawal and expletives.
"Of all the clues you can see with opiates, [two key ones are] they're in the bathroom for a hell of a long time and they're always tired," she said.
Children and youth don't keep their drugs in the house to find, she said. They are smarter than that. She referenced many books, but nothing helped. She was beside herself when the police became involved, leading to her worst mistake: kicking him out.
"It's my personal regret . I lost sight of him," she said.
Rodrigues isn't sure if she was plain stupid or just hoping for the best, but she helped co-sign leases, delivered groceries to him and her friends.
"Either I didn't want to see it or I have a stupid side," she said.
When he moved home at 21 and then checked himself in to rehab the drugs did not stop.
Despite the rehab, she often received phone calls early in the morning from the hospitals at emergency wards about him, as he "coded a few times."
After a while she resigned herself to the possibility of his death, preparing for it the most practical way she knew.
"Well, if he's going to kill himself I've got to bury him. You don't expect to bury your kid," she said, adding his grandmother would be told he died in a car crash.
One day she phoned and said, "I cannot do it anymore. I'm taking my hands off you. I love you. I never stopped telling him, 'I love you. I love you.' But I cannot do this anymore."
A week and a half later he entered himself into a methadone program in Ottawa.
Although she was a skeptic, she says the methadone treatments saved her son's life.
She said her son Mitchell is living because of methadone treatments to control his addiction.
As of mid-April of this year, he is off of methadone and with the help of his girlfriend has maintained his sober lifestyle.
"Right now I'm still on eggshells. I've read all the stuff about methadone and about the dangers of when you stop methadone and how it is more precarious than when you're on methadone," he said.
Through it all, Rodrigues said her support was more important than telling him to not do drugs. Ultimately the abuser needs to decide to do something about it.
"You need to want to be clean. You need to have a goal. You need to have a view that you want something better and the pain to get there needs to be worth it," she said.
The event was open to educators and health providers. It was organized by the Haliburton County Opiod Misuse and Reduction Committee.
At the end, audience members were encouraged to complete a comprehensive evaluation form and given material to share with their students.
For information and resources see www.camh.net or www.knowledgex.camh.net.