Nfld. & Labrador

Methadone program pioneer now says it isn't working

A man who played a part in starting Newfoundland and Labrador’s methadone program says he no longer thinks methadone is a good way to treat narcotics addictions.
There are more than 1,000 people currently receiving methadone treatment in Newfoundland and Labrador, but very few medical professions who provide the service. (CBC)

A man who played a part in starting the province's methadone program says he no longer thinks methadone is a good way to treat narcotics addictions.

"Get off drugs, get involved with long-term treatment and counselling. That's where I think money would be better spent," said Ron Fitzpatrick, executive director of Turnings, an outreach group that helps addicts and former inmates.

Although Fitzpatrick pushed to create methadone maintenance programs across Newfoundland and Labrador in 2005, he now says these programs aren't working as well as planned.

"Methadone maintenance is something we really believed in at Turnings back when we started it up back in 2005, but there's so many things happening since then," he said.

"If you're abusing opioids, we don't want to help people get on the methadone maintenance program because over the past few years we've seen so many people abuse the program... There's so many people on methadone maintenance and they're using other drugs."

There's more demand than available spaces in the province's methadone programs and Fitzpatrick said there are very few medical staff administering the service.

Clarenville pharmacist stops providing methadone

Fitzpatrick said there is only a handful of doctors administering methadone to more than 1,000 people. While some pharmacists provide the prescriptions to clients, many do not.

"They've had altercations in their pharmacies where there were arguments, fights. Individuals stealing or disrupting other people who were just shopping or trying to get their prescription filled," he said.

"We don't have doctors lining up to get involved, to get the training and get certified. The doctors that are involved with it right now, between their clients and their regular patients, their workloads [are] maxed out right now."

The only pharmacist in Clarenville recently decided to stop providing methadone because of the demands of providing it daily, as well as fights and disruptions that occurred in the pharmacy.

Meanwhile, one of the few doctors in the province who prescribed methadone was recently suspended.

Fitzpatrick said this loss in staff will have a big impact on those who need methadone daily.

"If you don't get that on a regular basis, you're like an individual who's abusing any drug. After the second or third day, you get right into what they call severe detox and you start to come down and you experience a lot of problems with your body," he said.

"Obviously if you have 1,000 people or 1,500 people on the methadone maintenance program and they're being treated by seven doctors, well if you take one of them out, somebody's going to have to pick up the slack. You're looking at a lot of negative consequences for those people."

Fitzpatrick said he would no longer encourage anyone with an opioid addiction to join the methadone maintenance program.


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