Thunder Bay

Former opioid user in Thunder Bay says Rapid Access Addictions Medicine clinic helped her get clean

A woman from Thunder Bay is crediting the Rapid Access Addiction Medicine Clinic, in the northwestern Ontario city for helping her kick her addiction to painkillers.

Amanda Rusnick was on and off painkillers for 17 years, did jail time, until finding help at city clinic

Amanda Rusnick has been addicted to opioids for 17 years. She became a patient at the Rapid Access Addiction Medicine clinic when her nurse practitioner saw she was struggling with addiction issues. (Gord Ellis/CBC)

A woman from Thunder Bay is crediting the Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (RAAM) clinic in the northwestern Ontario city for helping her kick her addiction to painkillers.

Amanda Rusnick said she has been addicted to the drugs since being assaulted 17 years ago in Alberta.

She said she was initially prescribed oxycontin for the pain, but when she left Alberta for Thunder Bay, she could no longer get them and by that time she was hooked.

'I wasn't thinking about stopping'

"I wasn't thinking about just stopping," Rusnick said on Monday at an Addictions Awareness Week event at the Nor'West Community Health Centre, where the clinic is located. 

"I was just thinking how do I get to Edmonton to get my medication?"

Rusnick said no doctor in Thunder Bay would prescribe the same drugs she had been receiving in Alberta.  So she turned to a variety of other drugs, including percocet, to numb the pain.

In the process Rusnick eventually turned to crime as a way to cover the cost of her dependency.

'Either I stopped using or I died'

Eventually she wound up serving two years in jail, and although she managed to get clean while in custody, once she was released her old habits resumed.

"At that point I gave up on myself because I had lost everything else," Rusnick said." I wanted to get high. I wanted to float on clouds. And I did."

Rusnick said she did get clean a few times, including when she was pregnant with her son, but it never lasted. She became a patient of the RAAM clinic when her nurse practitioner recognized her struggle.

"I was at the point where it was either I stopped using or I died," Rusnick said. "I had tried to stop many times. I I wanted to stop doing what I was doing and I guess coming here is what helped."

Clinic treated 700 people in first year

Rusnick is not alone in her battle with opioids in Thunder Bay.

Between January and August of 2019, Superior North EMS responded to an average of 25 suspected opioid overdose calls per month.

Since the RAAM clinic opened in 2018, it has had nearly 700 individual clients, and 80 per cent of them have come back for repeat visits.  The average patient visits the clinic nine times.

The community partners operating the RAAM program believe its presence is being felt in Thunder Bay.

Cynthia Olsen, the co-ordinator of the Thunder Bay Drug Strategy, says recovery can be a "bumpy road", but "there are always opportunities for people to maintain and get into active recovery." (Gord Ellis/CBC)

People can walk in, get help

"Recovery can be a bumpy road, and there are always opportunities for people to maintain and get into active recovery," said Cynthia Olsen, the city's drug strategy co-ordinator.

"I think the important thing is there are actually services and supports to meet people where they are at, in the time that they need that service. And RAAM is an excellent example of that. It's rapid access. People can walk in, self referral, and be able to continue with what their recovery goals are."

Olsen said other work is also being done throughout the community to help end the opioid problem, including the distribution of naloxone kits.

The city's two RAAM clinics run through the NorWest Community Health Centre and the St. Joseph's Care Group's (SJCG) Balmoral Centre.

Access to addictions counsellors

The RAAM program provides a non-judgemental space where people can heal and have hope, said Nancy Black, the vice president of addictions and mental health for SJCG.

"We work with people to set personal goals that are meaningful and achievable in all areas of their life," she said. "People need access to a range of services and I would say the most critical components that are actually embedded in this model of care, is to have access to addiction counsellors."

Now a year into her recovery, Rusnick said sobriety has given her life back.

She still struggles with pain, but said thanks to RAAM has learned others ways to cope with it without using drugs.

"Counselling, physio...I've done it all," she said. "If it wasn't for them telling me that's what I can do, honestly...I'd probably still be using. "

 

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