Nfld. & Labrador

Rural recovery: Addicts talk opioid use in Stephenville

The addiction recovery drop-in centre is seeing more than 30 addicts a week.

Drop-in clinic sees big numbers of alcohol and drug addicts in Bay St. George area

George Legge comes to the drop-in centre to play pool and talk about his alcohol and drug addictions. (Colleen Connors CBC )

A small room with a pool table, a dart board and a couple of coffeemakers — tucked away in the Harmon Mall in Stephenville — is changing addicts' lives. 

The addiction recovery drop-in centre sees more than 30 recovering addicts a week. 

Don Russell worked in the drug recovery field for 28 years and started the centre voluntarily in January 2016 after he realized there was very little help for addicts in the Bay St. George area.

Opioid addiction is making headlines in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Russell says the fake Percocet tablets seized May 18 in the Stephenville area, pills that contained fentanyl, were a wake-up call.

"Because of the fentanyl scare, it heightened awareness in the community," he said. "There is opioid drug use here. There are two deaths [police have confirmed one death] but how many deaths from alcoholism and drugs and other drugs like methadone?"

Hunting, capelin and recovery

The recovering alcoholic of 32 years says the fentanyl find in his area helped open the addiction discussion at his drop-in centre. 

Addicts here talk about hunting, capelin and recovery.

Don Russell opened the addictions recovery drop-in centre in January 2016 and says he has seen more than 1,500 visitors. (Colleen Connors CBC )

George Legge, originally from Flat Bay, says he could easily get alcohol and marijuana when he was younger.

He became addicted and would take anything, looking to feel sedated.

"It takes your life away," he said.

he addiction recovery drop-in centre in Stephenville is seeing more than 30 recovering addicts a week who are dealing with a wide range of alcohol and drug problems. 0:38

Legge discovered Russell's drop-in centre and is now almost a year off drugs and almost two years sober.

"You need a fellowship, people you can talk to, people you can trust, because when I came here, I couldn't trust no one. I couldn't even trust myself," he said. 

It takes your life away.- George Legge

Legge feels comfortable talking with other addicts while he plays a game of pool. He also sees a counsellor through Western Health every three weeks.

But his success is not the norm. Russell says opioids are a big problem in the Bay St. George area because they are relatively easy to get. 

"In bigger cities you have more choices of drugs," he said. "You will do prescription drugs in rural areas. They can't get the other drugs readily."

The addictions centre is open three days a week in a mini-mall in Stephenville. (Colleen Connors CBC )

But there are exceptions.

"I mean, I had a client who was from Nain, Labrador, whose drug of choice was crack cocaine. How the hell do you get crack cocaine in Labrador? It's everywhere. It's portable."

Russell was shocked to learn there is no detox centre in Stephenville. If someone is in trouble, he says, there is a narrow window to get help. And he's heard from addicts in the area that there is a long wait for treatment in St. John's. 

Long journey to get methadone

Eddie Jesso heard about Russell's drop-in centre through the local media and was happy to get out of the house for a couple of hours a week. 

He said it's a place where he can get his frustrations out. 

Jesso is addicted to OxyContin, which his doctor prescribed for his back pain. 

Now, he takes methadone in a pill form to help with the addiction. But he has to lie on a mattress in the back of his van while his wife drives him to St. John's once a month to receive the medication. 

"Methadone is usually a liquid, just to get people off of the painkillers. But mine is for long-term pain management. They can't write a prescription for the pills," Jesso said. 

Jesso will keep coming to the centre to talk with others about their frustrations with opioid addiction. He doesn't know if he can continue to travel across the island for treatment.

Russell plans to keep his centre running as long as addicts need the space. 

He said it's a safe place to come and talk to someone who's been through recovery. 

About the Author

Colleen Connors reports on western Newfoundland from CBC's bureau in Corner Brook.