Sarah Alderson, of Hanna, was at Safe Harbour Society in December, to deal with her fentanyl addiction. It was her first time attending a detox program. (Photo by Susan Zielinski/Advocate staff)

Detoxing from fentanyl’s grip in Red Deer

Taking the first step with the help of Safe Harbour Society

Often no other drug will do after someone has tried fentanyl, says a Red Deer man undergoing detox.

The 37-year-old, who wanted to be known by the initials J.P., said after only two weeks on fentanyl when he knew he needed help.

“It quickly became a problem. I recognized I didn’t want it to be, but it has such a grip on you. You get sick really fast so you’re having to find something to fix the sickness which would be running back to fentanyl or an opiate,” said J.P. during his second day in detox at Safe Harbour Society in December.

“Some people are so reliant on it. There is no other option. It’s fentanyl or nothing. The consequences of coming off it is so scary for them,” said J.P. who used .3 grams of fentanyl a day at the height of his addiction.

After being 10 months clean from prescription opiates, J.P. said he quickly tried to quit fentanyl.

“I first shot it with meth and cocaine and then stopped that. Came (to Safe Harbour). Talked to them. Told them that I messed up. Promised I wouldn’t be doing that anymore, but ended up smoking it afterwards. Found a way around that,” he joked, shaking his head.

Easy access to fentanyl in downtown Red Deer is the other problem, said J.P. who regretted his decision to live downtown.

“Having it being around constantly wasn’t helpful. And I have a lot of friends that use it. A lot I know passed away and for some reason I wanted to see what it was about. Not the smartest thing to do.”

He said the homeless drug community is tight and when someone is dope sick they will help each other out.

But when they’re on fentanyl they will steal from each other and others to get that next fix.

“I know a lot of females have to do whatever it takes to get their next fix which is very sad. I know a couple young girls who pretty well sold their souls because of the drug.

“A lot of them now live in guilt and shame because of what they’ve done so it’s even harder for them to get out. To leave that drug use, they’ll have to deal with that guilt and shame.”

He said crime and the opioid crisis will only get worse in Red Deer.

“The downtown core area isn’t going to get any better.”

J.P. said he never needed naloxone to reverse a fentanyl overdose, but more should be done to increase awareness of naloxone. City workers, like bus drivers, and mall security should definitely be trained to administer naloxone and carry it.

Sarah Alderson, 21, also attending Safe Harbour’s detox program and 10 days sober, said some of the friends she has saved with naloxone thought that if they needed naloxone to be revived, the fentanyl must have been good.

“After you’ve done it for a while you don’t even think about dying. You just do it,” said Alderson who wants to leave fentanyl behind for both herself and her daughter.

“It’s a vicious cycle. It turns people into people that they’re not.”

She said fentanyl calms you down and nodding out on the drug is like being zombiefied, but can quickly turn deadly.

“You’ll be in a room of like 10 people and six people are down and everybody’s rushing to get (naloxone) to bring people back to life. It’s an everyday lifestyle. That’s really morbid. I’ve lost friends this year. It’s not worth it,” said Alderson, of Hanna.

She said she used crystal meth on and off for about seven years and tried fentanyl because it was simply available. Eventually she was smoking .3 grams of fentanyl a day.

“I think that’s how people start it, just because it’s there, just because they want to get high. That’s how I started.

“But I should have known better because all of my friends were just passing away — and I decide to do it,” said Alderson whose next step will be attending a treatment centre.

She said fentanyl had its grip on her after she used it recreationally for about a week. In the Hanna area over the last few months more drug users have switched to fentanyl. But she ranked the fentanyl in Red Deer much stronger and likely contains carfentanil, an even more dangerous opioid.

Alderson said she went cold turkey before coming to detox so her first few days without fentanyl were tough.

“It feels like your body is being turned inside out. Your skin’s just crawling. You get so agitated that you can’t sleep. You just can’t focus on anything.”

But she said getting clean is worth it in the end.

“You’ve just got to be determined. Some people complain that bad things happen and how they’re addicted, and they can’t do anything about it. Well nothing good is going to come out of being lazy and just doing drugs every day. You’ve got to want to do it,” said Alderson who wants to become an addictions counsellor.

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