The founder of the U-Turn Drop In Centre in Carbonear says that opiate abuse in Newfoundland and Labrador has reached "epidemic" levels.

In an interview with the St. John's Morning Show, Jeff Bourne said that in his region, opioids used as pain medication and as street drugs are a problem just like everywhere else in the province.

"I say we're into an epidemic right now," said Bourne

He said that fentanyl — a drug that can be up to 100 times stronger than morphine — has been showing up around Carbonear, first as a slow-release patch and lately as a pill.

He believes the struggle with opioids in N.L. began years ago when doctors started prescribing drugs like OxyContin to patients who weren't aware of their addictive nature.

"The withdrawal systems [are] pretty harsh," said Bourne. 

He said opioid users who've been prescribed powerful drugs often end up seeking relief from street drugs when those withdrawal symptoms begin to hit.

U-Turn provides support for addicts by providing 12-step meetings, information, and counseling.

More overdoses than statistics say

Naloxone kit

This naloxone kit, from B.C., can be administered after an overdose. (Towardstheheart.ca)

According to Bourne, there's a higher number of opioid overdoses in Newfoundland and Labrador than the official statistics show, with autopsy reports often listing cardiac arrest.

Bourne even recalls one instance where a syringe was found near a body, but the cause of death was marked as a heart attack

"When you've got a young man or a young lady that dies of cardiac arrest, there's an underlying issue: Why did they have a massive heart attack?"

He said the province's approval of take home Naloxene kits —a drug that works to reverse the effects of an overdose—is a "huge step" in helping addicts.

"I know there's a bit of wait time for treatment and stuff but the government's doing a lot of things with the resources that they've got right now towards helping people."

U-Turn hoping to expand

Bourne said U-Turn is working on a proposal to expand its facilities to better handle the demand for addiction counseling services in Carbonear.

He said they're doing it in hopes of receiving enough funding to secure another building and to establish some form of a sober living facility — like a transitional house for men — on site. 

Right now, he worries that individuals visiting the facility aren't getting the attention they need.

"[Our] big concern is if people come in and they're kind of glancing around the office seeing what stuff is there, they don't really get the full benefit of the one-on-one peer support that we're offering them."

With files from the St. John's Morning Show