Metro Morning

Former Barrie physician tells story of recovery from fentanyl addiction

A former Barrie, Ont., emergency room doctor recovering from a fentanyl addiction says he wants other people struggling with the same issues to know they are not alone.

Darryl Gebien says fentanyl is 'frightening' and he wants to help others addicted to it

Darryl Gebien, a former Barrie emergency room doctor facing 72 charges, is recovering from an addiction to fentanyl. He will tell his story on Sunday at Toronto's 'Recovery Day.' (CBC)

A former Barrie, Ont., emergency room doctor recovering from a fentanyl addiction says he wants other people struggling with the same issues to know they are not alone.

Darryl Gebien, 45, now a Toronto resident, told CBC's Metro Morning on Friday that recovery was a "very long, tough journey." Gebien plans to tell his story on Sunday on Recovery Day at Mel Lastman Square in suburban North York. The day, being marked on Sunday by 30 Canadian cities, is organized by local groups to celebrate freedom from addiction.

Gebien, who is out on $80,000 bail, is facing 72 charges relating to forged prescriptions and drug trafficking. He is due back in Barrie court on Sept. 21.

"I was so miserable," he said of his addiction. "I wasn't capable of feeling joy. I heard stories in recovery of people promising good things and that, if you just keep it simple and change some things in your life, it will get better. But I didn't want any part of that."

Gebien said his addiction was gradual. It began in 2008, when he began to have chronic back pain and was prescribed the pain reliever percocet, a morphine-like drug. He said that prescription, combined with stress, led to more frequent use as his back pain escalated. When he realized he was suffering from withdrawal at one point, he stop using as much.

'Addiction itself is so strong'

"There were many issues going in my life, that I now recognize in recovery that I didn't see, were contributing to all the stress. It was mainly stress from various sources and that was the main culprit, combined with back pain."

In May 2014, when he was out of percocet, feeling withdrawal symptoms from increased use and feeling ill, he "graduated" to fentanyl. 

"I should have known that I was getting myself into dangerous water but from there on in it only took six months, fortunately, to spiral out of control. I came close to dying but managed to make it through," he said. "When you are in it, you start losing your judgment. The addiction itself is so strong."

Gebien said he was using fentanyl to self-medicate. He tried to quit at times but something would happen and he would start using again. "I was using it as a coping strategy."

For the past two years, he has been in recovery. In November 2014, he went into rehab at Homewood Health Centre in Guelph, Ont.. After that, he took two more rehab programs, at Vitanova Foundation in Woodbridge, Ont. and Renascent drug and alcohol rehab addiction treatment centre in Toronto. All three offer treatment for addiction.

"It's been a very long, tough journey but fantastic."

Creativity has come back

Gebien learned that the good days, eventually, outnumber the bad days. "It's amazing how things progress. They were right. More and more frequent good days started coming. That was recovery showing itself. I got healthier. I got better."

Now, he goes to self-help groups to continue his recovery. He has noticed he is feeling better and his life is improving.

"Lately, it has showed itself in great ways. My creativity has come back, my motivation. I am present for family and friends."

Gebien said fentanyl is "frightening" and naxolone, an antidote that's relatively easy to administer in the event of an overdose, is a temporary solution. "It can save lives," he said.

In an interview with CBC News, Gebien said he wants to tell his story on Sunday because he wants to help others and to let others know that although addiction can be a lonely place, full of shame and embarrassment, there is a way out and they are not alone in their struggles to get healthier.

"When I do good, I feel good," he said. "Things get better."

Event to feature personal stories

He said he is working on a presentation, entitled Life and Living, that he wants to take to schools to spread the message of recovery.

In November 2014, Gebien was arrested and charged with three counts of uttering a forged document. Barrie police allege Gebien forged three prescriptions to obtain fentanyl. In January 2015, he was arrested again and charged with an additional 65 offences. Police allege about 515 fentanyl patches were fraudulently issued by Gebien from June 2014 to November 2014.

According to the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Gebien has ceased to practise as a physican in all jurisdictions at the present time. He said under his bail conditions, he cannot practise as a physician.

Recovery Day in Toronto has the theme "Sober in the 6ix." The event will include speeches by medical experts, messages of celebration, personal stories of recovery, musical acts, entertainment, children's activities and dozens of booths with information about Toronto recovery support services.

This year is the fourth year that Toronto has organized a "Recovery Day."