Methadone, suboxone used to combat opioid withdrawal

A growing number of clients of Red Deer’s Central Alberta Methadone Clinic are fentanyl abusers.

Manager LaVerne Stevenson said among the 300 people who come to the clinic annually to try to break their addictions, she’s seen a steady rise in individuals hooked to fentanyl, which is being used to lace many street drugs.

“It’s in everything — and it’s not just affecting street people but people from all walks of life.”

Stevenson feels that opiate abuse — like other addictions — is a coping mechanism, so she urges clients to get counselling to determine the root problems that have caused them to turn to drugs.

“These people are the same as I am, only they have a more serious disease,” she said, adding that the drug users need to feel that society is not giving up on them.

The clinic uses methadone and suboxone to help people overcome withdrawal symptoms from opiate addictions. But Jennifer Vanderschaeghe, executive-director of Turning Point, said more Red Deer-area doctors should be prescribing suboxone to help drug users wean themselves from dangerous opiates.

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While methadone is more known to help opiate addicts gradually reduce their dependency, suboxone is now known to be more effective, she added — but relatively few Central Alberta doctors are prescribing it, perhaps because they aren’t yet aware of suboxone’s benefits.

People who become addicted to opiates, unlike those who use stimulants such as cocaine, do not benefit from stints in detox centres, said Vanderschaeghe. Studies have shown they have a higher rate of staying clean if they use an opiate replacement therapy.

This involves doctors prescribing methadone or suboxone, which allows users to manage a gradual withdrawal from opiates in their own homes. Turning Point outreach worker Aisley Miles likened it to using a nicotine patch to quit smoking, instead of going cold-turkey.

Detox programs do work well, however, for people trying to get off of alcohol or stimulants, including cocaine, crystal meth and Ritalin.

Red Deer started out with a “social detox” that provided about 400 clients a year with verbal support and the “management of symptoms with food, water and sleep.” The Safe Harbour Society recently received funding from Alberta Health Services to turn this into a medical detox centre.

Starting this spring, a staff of nurses will provide 24/7 medical intervention on site for people having seizures from withdrawing from serious alcohol or drug additions.

It will likely be full all the time, predicted Turning Point outreach worker Jayde Fahrensehschon.

So far, Red Deer has no supervised injection program, where drug users can be under the watch of people who can administer anti-overdose medication if needed.

Vanderschaeghe doesn’t think this will be happen locally any time soon, since the program is contentious and isn’t even available yet in larger centres such as Edmonton. “Everybody’s doing research on them.”

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