Nfld. & Labrador

Pharmacy closure puts new focus on methadone program

Newfoundland and Labrador's methadone program is coming under increasing scrutiny, as a mother claims an underground market helped kill her teenage son.

Newfoundland and Labrador's methadone replacement program is coming under increasing scrutiny, with one mother claiming that an underground market for the drug helped kill her teenage son.

As well, one of the province's best-known entertainers is speaking out against the program, with actor-comedian Mary Walsh describing it as an ineffective way of helping people conquer addictions.

Downtown Pharmacy's business licence was pulled immediately after pharmacist Frank Boland informed the Pharmacy Board of Newfoundland and Labrador that he could no longer supervise the dispensary at the St. John's business.

Larry Dunn: 'Right now, I'm aches and pains. I'm ready to snap someone's head off.' (CBC )

More than 100 people received methadone therapy through the pharmacy, and have now been directed to the Opioid Treatment Centre in Pleasantville.

Mary Payne says the proliferation of methadone has proved dangerous, and believes the opiate that killed her son Jeffrey, 17, in an overdose two months ago had been prescribed to someone in the program.

"When I came into my home, I found him dead in his bed," said Payne, adding that her son was not known to have used hard drugs before.

She said methadone is readily available on the street because patients in the program are selling their supply. She said there must be better ways of helping drug addicts recover.

"I don't believe in the methadone being administered … if only the person that administered him that drug, if only they knew what I was going through, nobody knows what I'm going through," she said.

Walsh, meanwhile, told CBC News she has serious doubts about the program, having watched a family member go through the program.

"I don't think that the first line of response if you're an alcoholic is to give you a bottle of whisky everyday," said Walsh, who is best known for her appearances on the television series This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Codco.

"I just don't think that that's the way."

Walsh also believes there must be a more effective way to help people recover from addiction to narcotics.

"People say that methadone doesn't make you stoned, it doesn't alter your behaviour," Walsh said.

"This is all nonsense as far as I can see, unless this particular person had a particular response to methadone."

Number of patients increasing

More than 800 people across the province are currently involved in the methadone replacement program.

Health Minister Susan Sullivan said she was pleased that Eastern Health and the Pleasantville treatment centre were able to act on short notice to accommodate patients who were displaced by the Downtown Pharmacy closure.

But Sullivan said the number of methadone users continues to grow at a high rate.

"[That's the] trend across the country that we're aware of … so the numbers of people who are being prescribed methadone these days, we would be seeing an increase," Sullivan told CBC News.

Some patients have complained about the sudden closure of Downtown Pharmacy, and whether they can be served efficiently through other means.

The Pleasantville centre is serving most patients in the afternoons, although some patients, like Larry Dunn, said their bodies have become accustomed to getting methadone early in the day.

"Right now, I'm aches and pains. I'm ready to snap someone's head off," said Dunn, who has been taking methadone for eight years. 

"I need my methadone early in the morning."

Wait list for program too long: NDP

In the legislature Tuesday, NDP health critic Gerry Rogers said she has been told there is an 18-month waiting list for methadone treatment, and that she has heard from families in agony.

"Mothers and fathers are calling me in absolute desperation trying to get help for their sons who have been kicked off methadone treatment and are now trying to detox themselves at home. Their sons are afraid, saying they fear they are going to die," Rogers told the house of assembly.

Sullivan said the government is "continuously trying to find new doctors who are willing to take on methadone patients or patients who potentially may need methadone."