‘It’s a killer drug, man’

Barb Sweet
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Oxy pills fetching $120 as supply tightens, addict says

Oxycontin pills seized in a drug bust. — Telegram file photo

Matthew MacDonald can always get to Day 3 and just once he made it to Day 4, but days 5, 6 and 7 remain an elusive dream.

MacDonald, 23, is sitting on a shabby brown couch in his Mount Pearl rental describing his attempts to go off OxyContin cold turkey, because he has been waiting months to get into a methadone program. He said he has a referral from his family doctor, got the necessary blood work done and is frantically waiting to be approved.

Eastern Health told The Telegram the current wait time for methadone treatment through the Opioid Treatment Centre in St. John’s is about 18 months.

There are two general practitioners who work with the clinic part time. There are also a couple of private practice physicians who offer methadone services out of their offices. Eastern Health is trying to recruit more doctors to offer the treatment.

OxyContin is the powerful time-release opiate prescription painkiller rampantly popular among addicts who crush or modify the pills to snort or inject the drug.

“One and two are really bad, but you always know in the back of your head it’s not the worst yet. Day 3 to 5 are the worst days. That’s when you get severe anxiety, cold sweats and nausea and throwing up,” MacDonald said.

“Day 4 is where I always caved and went and got one.

“People criticize it and play it down like it’s nothing. It’s the worst pain you’ll go through ever in life, to me. I never went through anything like it. Your whole body sweating and the anxiety. It’s a killer drug, man.”

MacDonald planned to try again this week with do-it-yourself detox by buying from an acquaintance a methadone carry — a dose certain methadone clients in good standing are allowed to take home. His idea is to drink it in small bits each day, chased with sleeping pills to quell the anxiety.

If he can get to Day 7, MacDonald figures he could not only get the Oxy out of his system, but avoid an addiction to the therapy drug methadone.

He may look like he is trying to emulate a tough gangsta rapper with his uniform of patterned T-shirt, track pants and ballcap worn slightly sideways, but MacDonald is articulate and sadly aware of what his life could be.

The weight of OxyContin addiction is bearing down on MacDonald, who should be looking forward to a bright future — he’s in the third and final year of computer studies.

But a week ago, he was fired from his work term, he’s already spent a roommate’s share of the rent and his girlfriend has turned to stripping to feed their addiction.

“I always knew what would happen, that eventually I would  get addicted to it and be in pain,” he said.

“If I try to stop again it will be my sixth time trying to stop.”

A measure meant to tackle addiction is causing even more stress on the streets.

MacDonald said because of OxyNEO, the price of an 80-milligram OxyContin pill has shot up from $80 to $120.

OxyContin is being discontinued by the manufacturer and replaced with OxyNEO, which is supposed to be hard to crush.

Ron Fitzpatrick of the non-profit group Turnings has also heard about the price hike from addicts.

This time last year, an 80-milligram pill was reportedly going for $50, he told The Telegram in an interview. Now the price is up around $120.

“It’s going to drive crime crazy,” Fitzpatrick said, speculating what could happen if the prices keep climbing.

Fitzpatrick said the effects on addicts’ health, as well as on the health care and justice systems, could be even more horrendous once the OxyContin is gone.

“That’s the biggest fear all of us got who work with people on them,” he said.

“In 12 months when there is no more (OxyContin) around, there could be crap from around the world.

“And if organized crime brings heroin in.... that’s the worst of the worst. If they get on that, oh my God ... It’s just going to be devastating.”

Back in MacDonald’s living room, he widens his arms, gesturing to the bruises.

MacDonald always feared needles, but as the price of the drug soared he first got his girlfriend to shoot him up and then gave in altogether.

The idea was to use less Oxy, but then his tolerance went up.

“I’m here putting needles in my arms. It’s almost become second nature now and it’s gross,” he said.

“I wish I was on methadone. It  would solve every problem that I have.

“Money is all right up to her in there. She is (downtown St. John’s) stripping right now to get our fix. I hate it. I hate the fact she is down there doing it. If I was clean I would never ever in a million years let her go down and do that. I hate the fact she is doing it but it needs to be done so we can get the OxyContin. I lost my job. Before it used to be me that was the one buying it.”

MacDonald’s girlfriend declined to participate in the interview, but according to him, she missed an appointment at the methadone clinic and was kicked out of the program. Then she lost her kids.

It was a former girlfriend that got MacDonald taking pills — he said he occasionally used cocaine and weed in high school, but stopped when he started college. The ex-girlfriend was addicted to Percocet, which contains a lesser amount of oxycodone, the drug in OxyContin, as well as acetaminophen. When MacDonald had his wisdom teeth out about a year ago, a friend offered him OxyContin.

MacDonald’s parents, who are in Ontario, have distanced themselves from him because they’ve never been involved in drugs and don’t want his younger siblings exposed to his situation. MacDonald doubts if he gets kicked out of his rental he could go back there, unless he cleans up.

He is due to begin classes again in May, and will have to repeat his workterm — he was fired for not showing up many days. He hopes to get rehired if, once clean, he owns up to his former boss about his drug problem.

But MacDonald is out of cell phone minutes, can’t insure his car, and Oxy fixes are more important than food or anything else. He’s lost 75 pounds.

“If (the DIY detox) doesn’t work this week, I don’t know how I’m going to get off it without methadone,” he said.

“It’s my best shot without relying on getting a call back from the doctor. By the time I get that call, I will probably be dead. I don’t know how I’ll live with myself if I am out on the street and I can’t go back to school and she can’t have her kids and we got nothing. What is there to live for if got nothing and so much pain anyway?”

He was ready to try the DIY detox last week when his girlfriend decided it wouldn’t work and went and bought a pill.

“It tore me because I wanted to stop,” MacDonald said.

“There are so many reasons for me to stop and I feel powerless like not being able to pay rent, not being able to work and not being able to pay for food, my girlfriend not having her kids, for us to have them back. They’re not my kids, but they’re hers and she is beat up without them.”

And even the promise that OxyNEO held for curbing addictions is in question as addicts trade tips on how to beat the supposedly uncrushable pills. MacDonald noted there are already rumours circulating on how to break the pills down and he’s even heard they can be shaved with a wood clamp.

A quick search online resulted in a forum in which participants debated the possibilities of a process that includes microwaving and then freezing the pills.

Fitzpatrick said while every addict is different, methadone is not the magical answer and it’s better to just get off the drugs.

It’s all too easy for clients to get kicked out of the program, he noted.

“When you get on it, it’s like liquid handcuffs,” he said.

And for those who absolutely can’t do it without methadone, Fitzpatrick said the provincial and federal governments should consider allowing nurses to become qualified to administer it so the wait times are lessened. Current federal regulations don’t allow for nurses to prescribe methadone.

 As of 2010, there were about 700 people in the province receiving methadone services, most of them within the Eastern Health region.


Organizations: Oxy, The Telegram, Opioid Treatment Centre

Geographic location: Mount Pearl, Ontario

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Recent comments

  • Jordan
    April 17, 2012 - 11:26

    hey mathew this is your cousin.i know we havnt spoke since like hi school but just wanted to say that i think going public with your addiction was the smartest thing you could have possibly done and im sure it wasnt easy to do. im routing for you man i really do think you can get your life back however i dont think you should use methadone as a crutch. ive seen people on it for the same reason you have been and in 1 word i could describe them as zombies. remember any short term pain you need to endure to get off them most certainly outways the consequences of whats to come if you dont. most importantly oxycontin withdrawl symptoms are not fatal. best of luck to you man let me know when you get clean :)

  • Someone who KNOWS Matthew
    April 15, 2012 - 12:05

    Matthew I know deep down in my heart that you can do it. I have been there with you while you struggled and I have been down this road as well. I am doing so much better now that I don't need or want them... It makes me feel like such a better person when i am not taking from my mother or family or Friends just to get my fix.. You need to learn that people are there to help you not turn against you. I am so worried about you it isn't even funny but i HOPE TO GOD that you get away from this stuff before it does kill you.. I know that you are such a better person then this. I know that you can do anything you put your mind to.. so please put your mind to it and DO IT keep away from the stupid stuff and get your life back together YOU CAN DO IT AND YOU WILL DO IT =) keep your head up high please i know you can. Always thinking of you =(

  • Danielle
    April 12, 2012 - 15:03

    Matthew, I realize you may love you're girlfriend, and she may love you; but it sounds like a relationship in which you're hurting each other. Living together is not helping either of you right now; Child and family services will not give the children back to your girlfriend while you continue to live with her struggling with drug addiction; and you will not be able to get clean living with someone who has drug addiction. You may hate me for saying this, but you know deep down one of you has to move out.

  • Kent
    April 12, 2012 - 11:30

    I understand the public's opinion regarding letting these addicts deal with the consequences of their bad decisions. However, the reality is that the sooner we gets these addicts on treatment programs, the better off we are as a society. Personally, I don't want to have to worry about my home or car getting broken into or stolen by desperate addicts looking for money. Therefore, it is in society's best interest to get these people into treatment programs, regardless of what we might think of their life's choices.

  • Christine
    April 12, 2012 - 10:20

    This could be anyone's story! "...there but for the grace of God go I."

  • Marie
    April 12, 2012 - 10:05

    Regardless of how Matthew got himself into this tragic situation, I think its brave for him to share his struggle with those who are open minded enough to see what a problem this is for so many people in our society. It's easy to pass judgement when it is not happening in your own family (or when you are safe behind a computer screen), but here is a young man asking for help in a seemingly hopeless situation. This article is aiming to alert readers to the desperation behind drug use, crime, etc., but unfortunately too many will fail to notice this and simply view it as a "pity-piece". I hope he can find the strength and support he's looking for and take control of his life again.

  • Stan
    April 12, 2012 - 10:03

    I wonder how sorry ppl would feel 4 these ppl when they brake into their homes and r holding them up at as they go 2 the bank machine. You start taking drugs that u know r addictive and ruin ppls lives of your own free will, then my sympathy u do not have, I will save it 4 ppl who deserve it.

    • Sergey
      April 13, 2012 - 15:19

      You sorry, judgmental, conservative, "red-neck", limited... I said enough. You're also most probably religious, think all Arabs are terrorists, Mexicans-lazy, and of course: that Drug addicts are all heartless criminals who chose this path voluntarily just to terrorize you, The Righteous Hard Working God-Trusting American... Did it cross your reserved, misinformed, propagandized mind that it has long since been clarified that ADDICTION IS A SICKNESS JUST LIKE CANCER, for instance, that one does not necessarily chooses to suffer, YES! SUFFER!, and that when a person is in terrible pain he will often resolve to commit gestures that fall outside the moral and legal boundaries just to attenuate his suffering??? And I'm far from saying that all addicts are poor, poor misled "angels", but so am I far from the OTHER colorful stereotype just depicted here by our "rightist activist" Mr. Stan. Ahhh, whatever... I'm pretty sure that there's sooner a cure for addiction to be found then for "narrow-mindness", so to say...

  • TR
    April 12, 2012 - 09:39

    Dump the GF. I am tired of hearing stories of addicts who still hang with buddies that are addicted. You have to put yourself in a place away from the drugs. Put up with the pain and vomiting for a few days or however long it takes. Go to hospital and see people that are really sick. If you are serious about getting off the Oxy, the pain is temporary. Hopefully your life will last longer.

  • Sheri
    April 12, 2012 - 09:06

    Such a sad sad story. I really hope he's strong enough to keep the addiction. Your brain is a powerful tool, you can do ANYTHING if you put your mind to it. Stay strong Matthew and fight. I pity all these people, what a crime to have to wait 18 months for treatment, this place is getting worse.

  • Sad
    April 12, 2012 - 08:41

    Ya know it's so sad about all these young people on all these Drugs, and very little help out there for them. I know it's there problm they do it but if there reaching out for help someone should help them because before you know it they will be dead....we relaly dont know how many young people have died from these drug OD, read the deaths from time to time and see or FB and you'll really see what they dye from DRUGS, it's crazy time to cleant he streets and people to......and Matthew believe James if your GF is a addicited as well get rid of her she is not helping your problem like you said she said if you go to detox and she said it aint going to work...she is no good for support for you. And maybe you should call your parents and reach for help somehow, if they really care about there child they will try and help you....but remember you got t be willing to help yourself.....and dump the girl......

  • wayne
    April 12, 2012 - 08:37

    there may be about 700 people on methadone replacement therapy, if there were better clinical facilities available this number could be reduced and others taken in. EVERY day there are stories in this paper and other media about the crimes committed by addicts. The province could save millions if this crime was reduced and also reduce the suffereing of the victims of the crime and the addicts as well. There is no logic in telling an addict who needs a fix EVERY day that they must wait MONTHS for therapy. And this does not only apply to oxy addicts...it also applies to booze addicts, and gambling addicts too. It's easy for "joe public" to be critical......but just look at how many lives have been ruined by addiction....yet we want to to build more jails and spend fortunes on "punnishment" instead of spending a fraction as much on help.

    • jiffymomma
      April 12, 2012 - 09:50

      I agree with Mary. None of us hould throw rocks, we dont now when WE are going to live it that GLASS HOUSE. I have a 21 year old son and a 16 year old daughter and I worry every day that they make one stupid decision and it screws up the rest of their lives. No one is out of the woods when it comes to this garbage. As a parent, I would suggest that Matthew call his parents. I would NOT be able to sit by and see either of my children like this. It is obvious he wants to quit, he should be given every opportunity to do just that. I pray that he finds a way to end this nightmare before everything ends for him

  • Anon
    April 12, 2012 - 07:18

    Too many people would be out of jobs if more rehab clinics were opened up to help addicts. Shorter wait-times is less money for the lawyers, police, probation officers, etc.

  • James
    April 12, 2012 - 07:09

    Matthew, if you're reading this, take my advice. Call your parents and tell them you need help, show them this article in the telegram. Hopefully they can help you to get some sort of rehab. You also need to dump your girlfriend. When you do end up in rehab, they will make you do dump her anyways. I wish you well, and be careful with those needles, man.

    • william
      April 12, 2012 - 09:27


  • well
    April 12, 2012 - 06:38

    and in the mean time there are people working trying to keep food on the table and a roof over thier heads , Matthew it was your choice to take them in the first place. OH thats right , its the everyone's fault except yours. Tired of hearing the same old song

    • prufock
      April 12, 2012 - 07:59

      Get over yourself. Nowhere in this article does MacDonald try to deny responsibility or blame others.

    • Mary
      April 12, 2012 - 08:06

      It's very easy to sit back and pass judgement,but , this is a sad story, he deserves every chance to get himself clean. Remember the saying" there but for the grace of God , go I". It could happen to ANYONE.

    • Lynette
      April 12, 2012 - 08:44

      Absolutely Prufock and Mary. We ALL make mistakes in life. I wish Matthew good luck and hope he gets off that stuff real!!! soon.

    • Devil's Advocate
      April 17, 2012 - 09:52

      I got a neighbor who is hooked on this. He got an injury and was prescribed OxyContin for the pain. Now he is in methadone treatment. It is doctors that got most people hooked on this crap, most do not question what doctors are giving them.