Saturday, 31 August 2013

The Truth About Methadone

This is a commentary that I wrote for today's (August 31) Guardian newspaper. Education is an important part of changing minds and bringing about change for the greater good. I am so grateful to the Guardian for continuing to print my addiction-related commentaries. Thank you!

The truth about methadone

Guest commentary

By Rose Barbour

How sad it was to read the story of a young man named Adam who is being harassed at his place of employment because of the medical treatment that he is receiving under a doctor’s care (Methadone patient faces discrimination, The Guardian, August 17, 2013).

In the article, Dr. Don Ling, medical director for the methadone program in P.E.I., mentions that their clients also face negative reactions within the health care system. Considering that the Island is in the midst of a prescription drug (opioid) epidemic, I find all of this very disheartening, but not surprising. How will we ever get this problem under control if we balk at the treatment options that are available?

I believe these types of reactions come from a lack of understanding about methadone. To help shed some light, I have looked to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Canada's largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital, as well as one of the world's leading research centres in the area of addiction and mental health, for information.

CAMH considers methadone to be one of the most effective treatments currently available for opioid addiction. As a long-acting opioid medication, methadone prevents withdrawal and reduces or eliminates drug cravings. When individuals are freed from the constant drug seeking caused by withdrawals and cravings, and the subsequent dangers around finding and using drugs (i.e. death, disease, crime), we all benefit.

Methadone is medically safe when prescribed and monitored by a doctor. With proper doses, clients feel normal, not high. As part of a methadone program, individuals also receive the medical and social support they need to stabilize and improve their lives.

With the positive benefits of methadone, we should support not condemn those who find recovery with it. One of the problems is that there are many myths about methadone that keep it stigmatized, the most prevalent and damaging is the myth that people on methadone are still addicts, even if they don’t use any other drugs.

CAMH clarifies that people who take methadone as a treatment for opioid dependence are no more addicts than are people who take insulin as a treatment for diabetes. Methadone is a medication that allows one to live a normal life, work, go to school, or care for their children.

As with other medications, methadone also comes with risks. When not used properly, or when mixed with other substances, methadone can be deadly. Some people also sell their methadone, which can end up in the hands of our loved ones. While these risks are very scary, we have to remember that other prescription medications come with similar risks. We need to trust that doctors will properly monitor their clients and adjust their treatment plans as necessary to minimize any potential risks.

Many people firmly believe and some are very vocal that abstinence-based programs like NA are the only way to overcome addiction. We cannot rely on beliefs when it comes to treatment. With a prescription drug epidemic, the stakes are too high. This belief also causes stigma for Methadone clients who are on a different path to recovery.

There is more than one way to recovery. Many people have found the motivation they needed in NA (or other 12-step groups). Many have not. Many have found their motivation in methadone programs. Many have not. This is because what works to motivate one person will not work for another. People are very complex. We each have different needs and respond to different things.

One size does not fit all in addiction treatment. We should embrace every option available so that people like Adam will have the best chance to find recovery and live a normal life. Overcoming addiction is very hard. For many individuals, death was the only way out of it. This doesn’t have to be (at least not without providing every opportunity to recover). With the proper support and resources in place, and by showing compassion toward those who are battling addiction, we can make a difference.

I can be reached at or on my blog at

- Rose Barbour of Charlottetown has researched addiction, maintains a blog, participates in drug awareness programs and has spoken publicly on the subject of addiction.

Here is the link to the article:

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Let's turn this thing around! 

We have a serious drug problem on this Island! As a province, we should be doing everything we can to combat addiction, including expanding our treatment options to incorporate modern, scientifically proven approaches along with the traditional ones. I’ve had enough of individuals, families, and communities being devastated by this disease – a disease that is treatable. How about you?

So, why aren’t we adequately treating it? Good question!

The biggest barrier is funding. The Province needs to step up and make the investment in addiction treatment. Research suggests that for every $1 spent on treatment, $12 is saved in other areas including health and justice. That sounds like a good investment to me. Any investor would put money into something that would yield a 12:1 return. Why won’t our government?

To be fair, our government has made some investment in treatment programs, albeit small. Some of the programs already in place work for some people, which is wonderful! I am always so pleased to hear about a success story. However, they are few and far between because what is being offered to the majority of individuals seeking help is not enough OR there are long waiting lists so Islanders cannot access the services in a timely manner (timing is everything with addiction treatment). Overall, and for many reasons, we are failing. Our increase in IV drug use, the increase in cases of Hep-C from IV drug use, as well as having the highest crime rate per capita in Eastern Canada are all good indicators of this failure. Please see my previous post for more information on these increases.

It is heartbreaking to see so many people, especially our youth, caught up in addiction. It is heartbreaking to hear of so many young people contracting Hepatitis-C, and it is heartbreaking to see an increase in crime in our communities. It is not too late to turn things around but we have to put the pressure on government in order for them to act on this epidemic. Call your MLA and talk about it. You have to CARE enough to do something.

If you don’t give a darn about addicts, perhaps you care about your community and sense of safety. Maybe that will be your motivation to do something. You may be one of those people who say “throw them in jail for a long time” thinking that is the solution. Well, it isn’t. Locking someone up with no treatment for their addiction is not solving the problem. They will get out eventually and still have all the same issues only worse because they are further hindered by a criminal record.

As a responsible citizen, I do believe that if you do the crime, you do the time. We can’t have people committing crimes with no consequences. However, there needs to be treatment offered as part of the rehabilitation process. The more logical approach to crime is to have treatment available BEFORE a crime even takes place. Less crime means fewer victims. That would be nice!

We never know what the future holds. You may not be directly impacted by addiction today but you could be down the road with a child, grandchild, niece, nephew, etc. becoming addicted. Addiction knows no boundaries. Let me tell you, when/if it does happen to your loved one, you’ll wish that you did something earlier to ensure the necessary help would be there. There is no scarier feeling than having your loved one sick with something that could easily kill them. As if that isn’t bad enough, finding out that there is not enough help available and that we have a system full of gaps is downright devastating.

As a province, we need to expand our offerings and our resources so that we can find something that works for each person. Because we are all unique individuals, whether you have an addiction or not, one size does not fit all with anything in this world and that includes addiction treatment.

Let’s take a stand for our fellow Islanders and for ourselves as well as future generations by demanding more of our government in this area. This is a disease that is treatable. That is the positive part. We can turn this thing around with a little investment of money and compassion.


Monday, 5 August 2013

My heart sang with joy....and then there was silence.

Three months ago, I read the following headline in The Guardian, which made my heart sing with joy. 

My family and many others have waited years for this to happen. And, they weren’t just regular years either. They were filled with stress, worry, devastation, disappointment, shock, tears, and sadness. After reading the article, I felt that change was finally going to happen here on PEI. It felt good to hear something positive on this subject. It felt good to know the government was paying attention. It felt good to know that people were going to be helped to break free from the grips of addiction. FINALLY!

In the three months since that article appeared, it was reported that:

1.       PEI’s needle exchange use is up 60%. While it is positive that IV users have a place to get clean needles and return used ones in order to prevent the spread of infections and diseases, this significant increase is indicative of the overall increase in IV drug use, especially among our younger demographic (see #2). 

2.       Rates of HepatitisC on PEI have doubled over the last decade, which is also tied into the increase in IV drug use. As if that wasn’t bad enough, of the 50 new cases per year, at least 50% of the individuals are between 20 to 30 years of age (compare that to only 10% in that age group 15 years ago).  Important note: 5 of the 50 cases were not related to IV drug use. 

3.       Our crime rate is up for the second year in a row. This includes only police reported crime. Many more crimes go unreported. We had the highest crime rate per capita for provinces east of Manitoba. It is estimated 80% or more of the inmates in Sleepy Hollow are there because of their drug addiction. One only has to read the newspaper to see addiction mentioned as a mitigating factor in most cases before the court. For this reason, we can easily conclude that addiction is behind the increase in crime here on our gentle Island.

With all this bad news related to addiction, you would expect our government to be on top of it. Yet, there has been nothing but silence since the article in May that promised aggressive action. Why? Also, why has the review on Mental Health and Addictions not been released yet?

According to the article mentioned earlier in this post, “Currie said government will be ‘moving fairly aggressively’ to find longer-term solutions to the complex problems associated with youth addictions.”  I guess that Currie’s idea of “aggressively” is different from mine.  When lives are on the line, aggressively should mean right now – not when summer is over (or even later)!

To be fair, I don’t put this problem squarely on the shoulders of Health Minister, Doug Currie. He is one man with a huge portfolio to take care of. The Departments of Health, Education, and Justice all played a role in this problem reaching epidemic levels, and they all need to play a role in fixing it. We cannot forget about the Premier either! As the head of this province, Premier Ghiz is ultimately responsible for what happens here. Premier Ghiz, we cannot afford to wait any longer on this issue. 

It is positive that the government is holding committee hearings in the fall but we need to take action now. You already know the extent of the problem. The evidence is all around you. 

As a parent, citizen, and compassionate human being, I respectfully ask our government to take meaningful action on the issue of addiction before it is too late to turn it around.