Manitoba methadone clinic saved my life, young mom says

The CBC's Donna Carreiro has the story of a Winnipeg methadone clinic that some say offers the best treatment for opiate addictions.

Winnipeg inner-city clinic offers holistic approach to treating additions

If Faith ever needs a reminder about her descent into drugs, she just has to look at the jagged thin scars that run along her arm.

"I couldn't hit myself in one of my veins, so I started slashing my wrist," says Faith (not her real name). "And then when I did that, I [saw] my veins, so I [shot up] where I slashed up."

Faith cradles her now-healthy baby, who was born two months ago addicted to drugs. Faith (not her real name) has been clean since she entered a Winnipeg methadone clinic last fall to deal with a morphine addiction. (Donna Carreiro/CBC)
Welcome to the hell that is morphine addiction.

"It is the awfulest feeling," she said. "Of all the drugs I did in my life, that's the one I'm most scared of."

Today, Faith shoots up a different kind of opiate. But this one, methadone, is under doctor's orders. And this one, Faith says, is saving her life. 

"If you'd told me last summer I'd be clean this long, I'd have said [never]," she said. "I was so close to overdosing."

Morphine's near-deadly hold on Faith reflected a grim trend that's now firmly entrenched in Winnipeg a dramatic increase in prescription opiate addiction.

And the methadone program? It reflects a growing acceptance of  a somewhat ironic therapy: giving an opiate addict a different kind of opiate.

It keeps the cravings under control, manages withdrawal symptoms and gives the patient the time and the ability to pick up the pieces of their drug-shattered life.

A hard sell

Not surprisingly, it was once a hard sell as an addictions panacea, says Dr. Lindy Lee, an addictions specialist at an inner-city methadone clinic.

"The problem is Manitoba has always been an abstinence-based province," Lee said.

Faith's story

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"I myself have an abstinence-based heart. I totally endorsed that. We just saw for opiate addiction it wasn't working. They were relapsing."

Those who go on methadone, however, stand a better chance, which is why the province now supports it.

But Lee takes it one step further and several years longer.

She doesn't just dole out doses of methadone. She treats the addicts "holistically," she says, providing resources to slowly help them rebuild their lives physically and emotionally.

In fact, some of the first OxyContin addicts she treated a few years ago are just now being weaned off the methadone.

"These were kids with lovely parents who often didn't have a clue from ordinary backgrounds," Lee said. "Somehow they stumbled into the OxyContin mess and it took them away."

Today, they have their lives back, she says — evidence that the combination of counselling and methadone might be long and slow, but it works.

Healthy and thriving

Faith herself is a believer. She was four months pregnant and still shooting up when she finally entered the clinic last fall, mortified because the baby inside her had become addicted as well.

"He was withdrawing. He needed a fix just as much as I did," Faith said. "It really freaked me out."

She didn't hold out much hope for herself. She'd tried rehab before, including methadone, and failed.

This time, however, she realized this program was different. Suddenly, it wasn't just about taking methadone. Suddenly, she was getting counselling, parenting classes and ongoing support.

As for her son, when he was born two months ago, he had to be weaned off the drugs. But he's now healthy, thriving and living full-time with Faith at the rehab residence she's staying in.

She has not had a single relapse — the longest she's ever been clean, she says — and she's now doing the groundwork to get skills training, get an apartment and raise her son.

She credits it all to Dr. Lee and the staff at the clinic.

"I didn't think anyone cared about me, they care about me and my baby," she said, cradling him in her arms.

"At one time … I couldn't even look at myself in the mirror. I was disgusted. And today I wake up and I'm like, I love myself again."