A methadone clinic run by family doctors that opened in Charlottetown in 2014 is being credited with eliminating the waitlist for methadone treatment and a reduction in crimes related to prescription opioids.
'Just having my methadone, and knowing that I don't have to worry about waking up sick — you're able to get a sense of normalcy back to your life.' — Justin Gotell, methadone clinic client
"It's been a huge benefit to people seeking treatment for opiate addiction," said Dr. Don Ling, director of the province's methadone program.
Since the facility opened in November of 2014, the number of Islanders receiving methadone treatment has more than doubled.
According to the province, more than 400 clients are receiving treatment through the new clinic. Another 220 are being treated at the provincial addictions centre in Mt. Herbert, while 176 more are treated through a provincial clinic in Summerside.
Before the new Charlottetown clinic opened, the total number of people receiving methadone treatment in the province was around 300, according to Ling.
Before the new clinic opened, he said, the average wait time to get into methadone treatment ranged from three to six months.
"Anybody that works with opioid addicts knows that if they're seeking treatment and aren't able to get methadone in the short-term, even after a detoxification, they're going to relapse to opiate use -- about 98 per cent of them, and it's pretty frustrating for them," Ling said.
He said most people who are serious about seeking treatment now receive it "in a fairly timely fashion," and that's a huge improvement over the past year.
'A great success'
"I feel extremely good for the patients out there, the people that fall into this disease," he said.
'I'd like to stand here and claim that was due to our efforts, but in my opinion that would be from the methadone program.' — RCMP Cpl. Andy Cook
"They don't plan to have their life overtaken by it, but that's what happens to many of them, and then when you don't have opportunity to treat, bad things happen. But now with the expanded capacity for treatment these people are more optimistic that they can change their lives."
Dr. Peter Hooley, one of the family doctors who set up the new clinic, said recovering addicts are re-entering the workforce and families that were ripped apart by drugs are being reunited.
"Young families where … the kids had been separated from the parents now are back together and functioning as a healthy family," he said. "So those are really heart-warming stories that we're seeing on a regular basis."
RCMP Cpl. Andy Cook with the Prince District Joint Force Operation drug unit said he's seen a significant decline in the number of opiate-related arrests and seizures in his district since the clinic opened.
"I'd like to stand here and claim that was due to our efforts, but in my opinion that would be from the methadone program," he said.
"I think that's been a great success. People on the street … that's what we're hearing from them, that the methadone has really put a significant dent in the want, I guess, for the hydromorphone, the oxycodone, the opiates."
'I can be reliable, I can show up to work'
Justin Gotell, 27, has spent the last five years in and out of treatment for opiate addiction.
He said the addiction cost him his job, his driver's licence, got him into trouble with the law, and led to a serious health crisis last summer.
"It culminated with me getting two bacterial infections on the valve of my heart directly related to using," Gotell said.
'There's lots of suggested changes you have to make. Methadone is just a tool that will help you get there.' — Justin Gotell, methadone clinic client
"And I ended up in the emergency room. When I came in my kidneys were shutting down, my body was going into shock. It was very serious."
After spending more than six weeks in hospital, Gotell entered the rehab program at the provincial addictions treatment centre in Mt. Herbert. He's now a client of the doctor-run methadone clinic in Charlottetown, and said he's been clean since September.
"Just having my methadone, and knowing that I don't have to worry about waking up sick — you're able to get a sense of normalcy back to your life," he said.
"I can be reliable, I can show up to work, I don't have to feel miserable because I know I'm gonna be feeling well. It's a tool to help you get clean. You've gotta change your people, places and things, there's lots of suggested changes you have to make. Methadone is just a tool that will help you get there."
Gotell eventually started working as a volunteer at the Reach Centre in Stratford, which provides support for recovering addicts, and now works there full-time as he works to get his life back on track.
"You get so behind whenever you're engaged in your active addiction," he said. "You have this sense you have so much to catch up on. But you gotta take it a day at a time."