Suboxone treatment helping people ‘get their lives back’

Duane Hicks

A new opiate addiction treatment program being run at Rainy River First Nations is helping some community members there get their lives back on track.
The suboxone treatment program started in late January, and currently has eight clients seeing success.
“All of our clients right now are doing really, really well. We’ve had no relapses,” noted program director/counsellor Katherine Deleary.
“The responses I have been getting from every one of the clients that are in the program is that right away, they start to feel good,” she added.
“It stops their craving to use,” Deleary explained. “They feel normal.
“That’s what they’re telling us—they feel normal again. They don’t have the need to go out and use.
“It cuts the craving,” she stressed
Among the clients currently in the program, Jessie, 27, Quentin, 35, and Christie, 27, were the first three to participate—and it’s a decision they’re thankful they made.
Jessie and Quentin, who are a couple, started treatment in late January. Jessie recalled when she and Quentin used opiates every day.
“Before, it sucked because you had to have drugs to be normal,” she recalled. “That’s what we were after, to feel normal. . . .
“But once you got suboxone in your system, it was okay, you were able to function.”
“Everybody was scared at first because it’s a big change in life [to start treatment]; to take that first leap,” Quentin admitted.
“A lot of people kind of brushed it off before they got on,” he added. “They said, ‘I’ll do it tomorrow. I’m not ready yet.’
“That’s how we were—it took us about three days,” he remarked. “And finally we said, ‘Fine, we’ll do it, I guess.’”
Prior to taking their first dose of suboxone, they had to spend 12 hours in a hotel room to go through withdrawal, as well as to isolate them to make sure they wouldn’t go out and score drugs.
Jessie noted she had her initial dose before the 12 hours was up and went through what is called “full withdrawal,” meaning she got really sick for nine hours.
“It was the worst I ever felt,” she recalled.
But five days later, Jessie and Quentin felt “normal.”
Deleary said Jessie and Quentin quickly became the biggest advocates for the program in the community.
“People could actually see the difference,” she noted. “In a matter of days, you could see the difference in their whole demeanour, the way that they felt.
“They were happier, they were more talkative,” Deleary added. “They weren’t isolating themselves, they were getting out there back into their normal life.”
And Jessie and Quentin haven’t looked back since.
“Life is a lot better because I don’t have to worry about getting my fix every day,” she said. “Now we have more money to spend on the kids and ourselves.
“I am going back to school and trying to get my diploma,” she added. “If I wanted to, I could probably keep a job now because sickness isn’t around, because of suboxone.
“Life is better,” Jessie reiterated. “I am able to wake up, take care of the kids, and not worry about feeling sick or dragging ass because I don’t have my fix.
“We’re a lot happier now. We have more confidence,” she explained. “Suboxone is a life-saver.
“If anyone wants to get their life back, they should try it.”
Quentin agreed it’s a relief not having to think about getting their next fix.
“Because that’s all that was on our minds every day when we were using street drugs,” he recalled. “‘Okay, where are we going to get money today? Where are we going to get our fix today after we get the money?’
“The same thing every day over and over and over for four or five years.
“We finally had enough of it.”
Quentin said that before that time, he was into playing poker and pool—and he’s now getting back into those things that make him happy.
“I was good at both of them,” he noted. “I was winning poker tournaments all over, winning cash.
“I went to the World Eight-ball Championships in Vegas four times, and then I got into drugs and it all went away.
“I wasn’t shooting good anymore, I wasn’t playing good poker anymore,” Quentin said. “And now I am trying to get back into what I used to be good at.”
He’s also started a business fixing iPhones, computers, and other electronics, and has been using his knack for numbers and accounting training to help people with their taxes.
Christie, meanwhile, started the suboxone treatment program in March—but not without some hesitation.
“It took me about two months before I gave in and quit and was ready to start it,” she recalled.
“I would come in and talk to [Deleary] every other day,” she noted. “I would make doctor’s appointments and just wouldn’t show up, or I would go to the appointment and say I didn’t want to do it yet.
“But I was sick of being an addict for five years,” Christie stressed. “I was just to the point where I didn’t like doing it anymore, but I was scared and wasn’t sure what to expect, which is probably why I ran away so much.
“It took me about a week to get stable, get on the right dose,” she said, adding she still gets headaches or nauseous when her dose is adjusted.
Christie said the fact treatment is offered on-reserve is key. She had been to other treatment programs four times before, and it never worked out for her.
“All the times I’ve gone to treatment before, it’s lasted a month to two months tops before I relapse,” she remarked.
“I found that doing this . . . it’s working for me a lot better just because I have more support.
“I talk to the majority of the people in the group and friends and family who don’t use anymore,” added Christie.
“Just having the groups and having the daily support, getting into that routine, is really helping me a lot, as opposed to just going into treatment for 28 days.
“If you really want to quit, this is the program that I’ve found works the best—with group sessions and with suboxone,” she said.
“It’s better than anything else I’ve tried.”
Christie said that if she hadn’t quit opiates, she probably would have lost custody of her son.
“I wasn’t able to work or go to school—all I cared about every day was getting my fix or I was going to be sick,” she acknowledged.
“Now, I can function normally . . . I sleep normal, I can get up with my son, make him all his meals, play with him during the day, take him out and do stuff with him.
“I don’t have to worry about family services coming and knocking at my door because I am using.”
She’s also set goals for herself.
“My main one is I am going to go back to college in September,” said Christie. “Because I graduated high school just before I started using and I haven’t been able to stay in college for more than a month because of what I was doing.
“Now, I have the confidence in myself that I can do it this time.”
Deleary said it almost seems as if the clients have “re-awoken and decided, ‘This is where I want to go with my life.’”
“Every one of them have basically gone back to what they were doing before they got up in their addiction,” she noted.
“They’re all pursuing their dreams.”
Over time, the clients’ doses are decreased until hopefully they will be able to stop using suboxone altogether.
Jessie, Quentin, and Christie all have seen their dose of suboxone reduced since starting the treatment program, as have other clients.
They hope to be able to finish treatment before the end of the year.