Nfld. & Labrador

10 years after opening its doors, U-Turn still helps people with addictions in rural Newfoundland

Jeff Bourne knows first-hand the struggles of people with drug addictions in rural Newfoundland.

Province making strides in providing recovery support, despite pandemic struggles

Jeff Bourne is the executive director of U-Turn, an addiction centre that opened in Carbonear 10 years ago. (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

Jeff Bourne knows first-hand the struggles of people with drug addictions in rural Newfoundland.

The issue, says the executive director of U-Turn Drop-in Centre in Carbonear, is just as urgent now as when the centre first opened its doors 10 years ago.

"Outside of the overpass, I call it, out of St. John's substance use disorder is very active and affects a lot of people," he said. He believes just about every family in the Conception Bay North area knows someone who has been affected by substance abuse.

Bourne sits outside the centre at a picnic table, where some meetings have been held since the beginning of the pandemic. Others had to be done online or over the phone.

The setup inside also had to be changed — from one big table in the middle of the room to individual chairs and tables.

But more than just U-Turn's setup and treatment sessions have been affected by COVID-19.

Bourne says Naloxone kits are more accessible now than they were 10 years ago. (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC)

"A lot of people, they kind of fell off the radar," said Bourne.

"Some of them … went back out. Some of them came back. Some people went out and never made it back. There's a number of people that did pass away, too, due to their substance use disorder or died by suicide."

Bourne isn't surprised that some people have relapsed during the lockdown.

"One of the things that we talk about in early recovery [is] don't be alone. Don't be alone anymore," he said.

"I'm in recovery, so the worst place I could be left alone with is myself inside of my head, because in five or 10 minutes I can have myself in a very dark place."

The Grace Centre, an inpatient addictions treatment centre, was added in neighbouring Harbour Grace in 2016, five years after U-Turn opened.

Both are resources for people with addictions issues in the Conception Bay North area, alongside Eastern Health services like DoorWays counselling.

Bourne also sits on the provincial recovery council, which makes recommendations to the provincial government on how to help people recover from addiction.

Aside from pandemic-imposed setbacks, says Bourne, the province is generally making strides in addiction treatment.

More people — nurse-practitioners as well as doctors — can now prescribe opioid addiction medication, such as Suboxone or methadone, he said. Naloxone kits, which are used in the event of an opioid overdose, are also more widely available.

"Eight, 10 years ago … it was probably like six weeks before you got on the methadone program. Now it's pretty much 24 hours to 48 hours," said Bourne.

"It's great that some of the drugs are getting off the street. However, what is replacing it, right?… People are gonna use something. They don't know what they're getting. So if they do get something that's got fentanyl into it, at least a naloxone kit will save your life."

Bourne says there's been an improvement in the perception of substance use since the centre opened.

"It's almost like if you got diabetes and you eat a chocolate bar and you put your sugar out of whack. Are you going to … kick yourself for eating sugar and bars and chocolate? No. You'll say, 'Well, I shouldn't do that.'

"It's the same with substance use disorder. If you go back out and you use, like, come back, get yourself back on track."

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Henrike Wilhelm


Henrike Wilhelm is a journalist working with CBC's bureau in St. John's.