A Canada-Wide Drug Use Emergency
Opioids are essentially very strong pain killers and their use, and abuse, in Canada has sky-rocketed. In 2016 medical experts urged the Federal Government to declare a public emergency over the opioid crisis. The Government has stated that the response to the crisis should be “comprehensive, collaborative, compassionate and evidence-based”. A report and recommendations on the opioid crisis in Canada was presented to the House on December 12.
Examples of opioids include oxycodone, morphine, hydromorphine, and fentanyl. They can come in many forms – pills, syrups, skin patches or nose sprays. And they are everywhere. They are in Central Newfoundland. They are in Green Bay. They are highly addictive, and lead to overdose and death.
According to the Federal Government, Canadians are the world’s second largest per capita consumer of opioids. Americans are first.
A conversation with Craig Wiseman, head of the Addictions Program at Main Street Medical Clinic in Springdale, and his patient, Emily, was an eye-opening experience.
Craig Wiseman had a long career as a nurse, and worked successfully in intensive care for 12 years. But he started injecting morphine. Small amounts grew to large amounts. No one around him realized and the use went on for four years. Those around him may have thought something ‘was up’ with Craig from his swings in behaviour but no one knew about the addiction.
In the end he was very sick in his addiction, and was “too messed up in the head to even know how to get clean”.
He tried to stop on his own, but it didn’t work. He said he now knows, as an Addictions Counsellor, that an addict conquering the problem all alone is often not possible. Help is usually needed.
Craig explained he was either high, or really sick in withdrawal. “Life was falling apart,” he said. He was no longer using for the high, he was using not to feel physically horrible. He was using just to function. He pointed out:
“That is the key in addictions. Most people who are addicts are not using any more to get high, it’s just to prevent the sickness that comes with not using. So they continue to use.”
He decided the way to end it all, was to end it all. He planned to commit suicide.
Craig got up one day and told his wife he was going into the woods to shoot some rabbits. He told her in exact detail where he was going. He knew, when he didn’t return on time, she would send his brother to look for him. And so he was in fact leaving directions to find his body.
He put a shotgun in his truck and he sat behind the wheel, next to it.
But he didn’t do it. He didn’t pull out of that driveway.
He walked back in his house. He walked past his wife. He went to the phone and made the call to his doctor. For help.
Craig called for help.
Everyone “was floored” because this skilled intensive care nurse, a care giver, was an addict. But a rope was thrown down to help Craig up out of the well he had fallen into and, with the support of intensive counselling at a three-week inpatient program at an addiction centre in Corner Brook, (and a few years more of weekly sessions) he beat the opioids. He did the hard work. There were no medical treatments at that time to help. He had push through it, through the physical and emotional pain and through the days of nausea and sweats.
Craig explained the trials of withdrawal:
“I’ll give the symptoms: anxiety, irritability, running nose, watery eyes, the sniffles, yawning a lot, aches and pains, the sweats, nausea and vomiting, insomnia…it’s like the worst flu you ever had but times 10… and I went through cold turkey and I was really sick for three weeks but I never started to feel well until 6 months later. That’s when I started to think straight…”
Craig’s Tough Time Now Put to Good Work in Springdale
Craig Wiseman’s life experiences are now extremely valuable to him as he assists others in climbing up out of their own addictions. He heads up an outpatient addictions treatment program, at Main Street Medical Clinic in Springdale which is run by Dr. Todd Young.
Craig said, “studies have shown that outpatient programs are just as successful as inpatient programs.” They treat patients medically with methadone and suboxone. Both, Craig said, are very effective in treating patients on an outpatient basis. The clinic also encourages patients to use their support systems. Family and friends join in counselling sessions.
Craig was emphatic when he stated that the need for addictions services is great. He added their average patient age is about 24 years old, and they have patients as young as 18.
When the program started last March they had about 6 patients in the first few months. Now there are 120 patients and Craig gets many calls a day from very sick people. Most people show up because of word-of-mouth. (Patients can self-refer or get a referral from a doctor.) They get patients from many different parts of Newfoundland and Labrador.
They recommend patients also return to see Addictions Counsellors in their home areas but the wait periods can be long – sometimes up to 10 months.
Emily’s Story, A Success Story
One of Main Street Medical Clinic’s Addictions Program patients is Emily Warren, from Grand Falls-Windsor. Emily is now surfacing from opioid addiction, after taking treatment at the clinic since July.
Emily said her unstable childhood, and possible undiagnosed and unnoticed conditions like depression, led her to try drugs at 13.
“I think I just kind of self-medicated with drugs, whether it was alcohol or weed or whatever, and then so long after experimenting with everything… I tried opioids and that was the only thing that really… got me hooked that I was, like, I couldn’t stop. … you want to stop, but you just can’t.
…and you just get so sick and tired of it after a while, getting up every day and trying to find a fix, and…looking for pills and looking for money and everything and it’s not because you want to get high, it’s because you want to feel OK. It’s because you want to get up and enjoy the day. If you… got to go to school or you got to go to work, or you got to go to a family function, you need that in order to be physically able to stand up or associate with anyone. Because you can’t live your own life when you are dying sick and in pain physically, emotionally, mentally. Every single way you can be in pain, you are in pain.”
After feeling bad for 2-3 years, her friend referred her to Todd and Craig at Main Street Medical Clinic. She called the clinic and they told her to come, which she did that very day. They did her intake and provided her some methadone.
Months after starting her journey to recovery, after what must have been hard work, Emily is glowing. She said:
“I actually made the choice that I don’t want to do that [addiction]. It’s not too late. I’m only 21. I’m only young… Now I am getting off methadone and I am going to be going to the residential treatment centre, which I am really excited about. And then when I get out of there, Todd and Craig are putting me on a student work placement and I am going to be working in a clinic, working alongside them and learning everything that they are doing to help people because that’s what I want to do. I want to be an addictions counsellor. And I have been accepted to a university in Ontario.”
Craig was clearly very pleased with her progress. “…this is from July, from where Emily was really sick to now, full circle. …She has made the right moves, that she didn’t think was possible…”
Emily has Native Status and is a member of Qalipu. She said the Band Council is going to sponsor her university education. She now wants to give back to her indigenous community, to help those with addictions, especially women and young girls. She explained she wants them to know they are not alone. She hopes to become one of the first to have the right credentials to specifically help First Nations individuals who suffer from addictions.
More Common Than People Realize
Craig said they see many patients with a journey to take, as did Emily, to break free of clutches of the addiction disease.
Craig pointed out it is more common than some people may realize, and that it is important to respond immediately when someone calls for help and not make them wait:
“Emily is not the exception… I have seen SO MANY come in at Emily’s age who are so sick, at the various stages of addiction. But anyone who shows up here the key is we wanna help them NOW. The good thing, I think, about having me in this position is the day I called Dr. Morris, my family doctor, if he’d said ‘no, I won’t be here… …’Cause I was gonna kill myself right before I got the nerve up to call him. If they’d said, ‘Craig, 10 MONTHS’… Oh, My God….to most people [who call this program], I say, ‘can you come today?'”
Emily added, “the thing about addicts is when they call and need help, they need it now. Just getting that courage to make the call is the big step in an addict needing help and accepting the fact that they need help.”
“it’s the DISEASE of addiction. And I stole this line from when I was in rehab: ‘there’s is not one family in Newfoundland that has not been affected by the disease of addiction’. Whether it is alcoholism, cocaine addiction, heroine addiction, methamphetamine addiction.
The word addiction is the key. Addiction is like a tree. The trunk of the tree is the disease, but the tree has many branches”
Emily went on to explain that with taking one of these opioid pills there’s a release of dopamine in the brain but in a short time more drug is required to get the same release. Emily added that, after a while, the brain can no longer produce even a normal amount of dopamine unless the drug is present.
Opioids are the number one cause of addiction among our youth, Craig added. “Some people become addicted to alcohol, some people become addicted to cocaine, some people become addicted to methamphetamines, everyone, EVERYBODY becomes addicted to opioids. It is the most addictive drug known to man.”
Emily emphasized, “it WILL GET you, it WILL grab you, and it will ruin your life.”
Get More Testimonials of Opioid Addiction on the Federal Government website: www.canada.ca
The following are just a tiny fraction of the news stories and articles out there on opioid addiction in Canada: