Methadone should be last resort: Mary Walsh

Barb Sweet
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Mary Walsh

Methadone should be a last choice for treating young addicts, says actress Mary Walsh.

Walsh is a member of the provincial health minister’s committee on mental health and addictions, but her opinions of the therapy drug methadone are her own.

“People who are pro-meth-adone say it works. The way it works is people stay on it a lifetime,” she said.

“If you decided to offer meth-adone to someone who is 62 who lived in east Vancouver to keep them off the streets, who has spent an enormous amount of time in and out of jail and lived a life of quiet desperation and you gave them methadone or heroin for God’s sake, why not just heroin, then I would say OK.

“But to give a child in St. John’s — I know 18 isn’t really a child, but you’ve just barely stopped being a child —  to start you on a lifetime of addiction to methadone seems to me to be ludicrous. I think it sets you up. You are getting every day one of most powerful opiates in the world. Where is the hope there?”

Several hundred people use methadone in N.L.

Recently, The Telegram told the story of a 23-year-old Mount Pearl addict trying to get into methadone because of his addiction to OxyContin, a powerful time-release opiate prescription painkiller rampantly popular among addicts who crush or modify the pills to snort or inject the drug. He has since used a do-it-yourself detox method.

Ron Fitzpatrick of the non-profit group Turnings suggested methadone is being used as a crutch and it’s better to just get off the drugs.

There are several hundred people receiving methadone treatment in this province.

Though it’s government sanctioned, dispensed by a pharmacist and avoids the use of needles, it’s replacing one drug with another, Walsh said.

“People who know say you can get off heroin in five days and it takes five weeks to get off methadone,” she said.

“They keep coming up with new opiates to replace other opiates. It doesn’t work. It never does. It’s much cheaper than trying to get people into rehabilitation. … It is a way to shut up the problem, close the door on the problem.”

Walsh said there are good people she admires on the committee who advocate for methadone, but she believes personally it’s wrong to start young addicts off on a likely lifetime addiction to the drug.

As well she said people who have children on methadone are concerned about the system’s reliance on it to treat addictions, rather than provide rehabilitation beds.

“The people who don’t seem to be concerned seem to be the people who are the professionals,” she said.

“People who are actually out one-on-one experiencing it in their own lives, those are the people who are mostly concerned about methadone.”

Walsh said there are many other ways to get people off drugs like OxyContin, heroin and even methadone.

But there is curently no medical detox staffed by nurses and doctors and no rehab facility for youth in the province, she said.

Although she has hopes for the already announced youth and adult addiction treatment facilties, they still won’t solve all the problems, Walsh said.

“We need to get some expert in on OxyContin addiction and methadone addiction and start to deal with them,” she said.

“It seems to me the people who deal the most compassionately and humanistically with addiction is the law, the lawyers and the judges, Crown prosecutors. People like that seem to have more of a sense of compassion. And the people who deal with it not at all are the medical profession. … Medicine turned its back on addiction and addicts whatever age they are.”

Walsh said while addiction is a disease, it has even more of a stigma than mental health.

“We say it from our lips. We don’t feel it and we don’t in any way treat it that way.”

Organizations: Council of Independent Community Pharmacy Owners, Value Drug Mart, CIPCO Association of Newfoundland and Labrador

Geographic location: Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador, Lac La Biche Canada

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Recent comments

  • D. Scotteated
    September 26, 2014 - 10:10

    Mary is so right! Methadone is nothing more than state sponsored drug addiction. The treatment programs are more a kin to the prison system than the health care system. I'm currently on methadone and have to provide urine samples on regular basis. Can you imagine treating ...I don't know, Diabetics the same way? Oh I'm sorry your urine contains to much insulin for you! Drug addiction is called a disease but treated like a crime. The methadone program is just another way for the government to look as if it cares. Keep them addicted on our legal opiates so they aren't breaking the law. You know out of sight out of mind. I'm constantly shocked at how young some "patients" are. The system is setting them up for failure and in turn blaming the patient for the failure and not the treatment. Only with addiction! No one blames anyone else with a medical illness for the treatment failing. Your cancer treatment didn't work because you just didn't try hard enough. I'm currently back on methadone again. You don't call something with a failure rate of over 95% percent a successful treatment.

  • jeanblake80
    January 13, 2014 - 12:09

    I absolutely agree. This was a very well written post. Too many dangers if people keep up with the Methadone. Thank you for sharing! Jean |

  • flyinbrianpowell
    April 24, 2012 - 21:23

    well said Mary, so many of our youth are using this a crutch to avoid their biggest addiction - being allergic to work. So many of our children are so under motivated and we will suffer for it in a few years due to this. Everyone has their hand out asking for help. Help yourself, get a job and contribute to society. For those that say, I can't work. prove it, have a physical done to show you can't answer a phone or puch numbers on a cash register.

  • Amanda Walsh
    April 20, 2012 - 10:34

    Mary Walsh is uneducated about methadone. It is supposed to be used as PART of an addiction treatment, as one of a host of tools, in order to reduce drug use (abstinence may never happen). Addiction is a complicated issue, people who struggle with addiction have a host of issues, including dealing with trauma, mental illness, etc, so making wide, sweeping statements about why youth should not have access to methadone just shows how little she knows. Stick to acting Mary, it's what you're good at.

  • MM
    April 20, 2012 - 07:42

    You go, Mary! You're damn right. And I'm not saying that the methadone program doesn't work.. I've seen it work. But nobody can deny that it's just replacing one opiate with another opiate. And I don't think she is denying the fact that it works, she is saying there HAS to be another way.. Without getting youth addicted to one form after the other. All you negative people need to open your minds. You don't need to be a medical professional to output the opinions Mary has in the article, JAMES. She is right. And if I were to guess, the people denying are those who are probably abusing it and just came on here to bash Mary because their scared she might actually go somewhere with this. Then where will you get your fix??.. Seriously though. Another thing, comin on here to comment and not commenting on the story is just ridiculous.

  • M
    April 19, 2012 - 22:37

    You go Mary!! Anyone who disagree needs to start thinking outside the box.

  • MP
    April 19, 2012 - 09:14

    SJW you are well informed! Methadone was not a last resort for me; I was not using needles or stealing to support my habit. I was employed full time and could not financially, mentally, or physically go through the withdrawal symptoms (which are incredibly intense.) I paid for my prescription every day; the only people that receive methadone for free are those on social assistance or a government drug plan. I tried the “on my own” approach only to go back to drugs, as so many others do. Methadone allowed me to avoid physical pain, and deal with the real issues of why I was using. I completed the program, drug free and I have not looked back. I am now a productive member of society, all thanks to the methadone program and the doctors who run it. I was only successful of course because I wanted to change, I wanted life back! I really hate to think what my life would have been without the program.

  • SJW
    April 18, 2012 - 22:28

    You don't get high on Methadone, it stops the withdrawal symptoms which can be deadly. Try doing research before expressing uneducated opinions. Oxycodone and Methadone are not equal and interchangable, neither are heroin and oxycodone. Actually there are only a handful of patients in the program due to addiction to heroin. Also, Methadone is not a lifetime crutch. Doses are tapered off slowly and patients do come off the program at a pace that is tailored to them. I would rather have ten thousand people recieving methadone from a pharmacy (which is once daily in a controlled setting) than having ten thousand drug addicts on the streets possible using and sharing dirty needles, dealing and stealing. Not all people addicted to Oxycodone and other narcotics are bad people either. There are many roads that lead to drug addiction.

  • LIB
    April 18, 2012 - 14:19

    Mary ...... you are 100% right. My opinion is: A little too much focus is put on the street drugs, I think the Doctors of Newfoundland/Labrador should be investigated. They perscribe way too many opiates, etc. to get promotions from the drug makers..the more they promote the better the bonus they get. A medical detox centre is required...a drug free one. I'm certainly not an expert.

  • Dakey Dunn
    April 18, 2012 - 11:34

    I think its a good idea to include a number of non experts on these advisory panels. Whether you like it or not celebrities can bring a certain amount of profile and exposure to issues required to make changes. Often times we see the "experts" getting things totally wrong.

  • sealcove
    April 18, 2012 - 10:24

    Mary Walsh the woman who makes Newfoundlander,s look like fools

  • Edmund
    April 18, 2012 - 10:20

    Thank you James, Amazed and Ludicrous. Finally others, beside myself, see Mary Walsh for what she is and that is not a celebrity as suggested by Wayne. She is an opinionated selfish individual who in this case is way out of her league. No credentials or expertise to make such comments so why do the news media publish them. I am not saying she does not know anything about using drugs. If she is so concerned about cleaning up something maybe she should start with herself and the arrogant and ignorant characters she portrays. There are enough reputable celebrities speaking out about mental health, addictions and other issues, we do not need the likes of Walsh. As for her being on the health minister's committee, just goes to show how desperate this government is to find knowledgable people in that field, they should try harder.

  • Chew
    April 18, 2012 - 10:12

    Finally --- someone like Mary Walsh has the courage to say it like it is. The Methadone program has turned Government into the drug dealer --- and tax payers are footing the bill. It's a huge joke and utterly ridiculous. The clients either go to the drug stores by foot or government paid for taxi to get their daily dose or their "carries". There's no counseling portion --- just feeding the addiction. Maybe Mr. Noseworthy as part of doing his audit on social services should be having a closer look at this. Look at that major money being spent on this and who's getting the kick-backs. There are doctors in this City and pharmacists alike doing well off the back of the methadone program. And really --- is anyone looking at the success rate. It just looks good on paper. In fact it's a farce. Thank you Mary for standing up.

  • Concerned
    April 18, 2012 - 10:03

    What about the addicts out there that are using methadone not prescribed to them? They aren't getting it because they are part of the program they are getting it from addicts that are selling it. I thought the methadone program was strictly monitored obviously it is not

    • J.Miller
      April 19, 2012 - 12:48

      @Concerned, you are clearly not aware that methadone is also used to treat pain and in that setting is no more regulated than any other drug. It is mainly these patients who put methadone on the street. A small portion comes from addicts on a methadone program. You, and others, seem to assume that if methadone is on the street means that it's being diverted by addicts in treatment and that the program is not really strictly monitored but that is not the case at all.

  • James
    April 18, 2012 - 09:45

    Mary Walsh makes me cringe, I can't stand the sight of her. I'm not even kidding when I say my day is literally ruined because I had to read her name and see a picture of her. What qualifies her to have all of the answers anyways? Hopefully she's out on her ear soon enough because of Stephen Harper's CBC cuts.

  • tonya
    April 18, 2012 - 08:55

    There were 5500 methadone related deaths in 2007. Methadone represented less than 5% of prescribed opiates but was attributed to 1/3 of all opiate related deaths.

  • jt
    April 18, 2012 - 08:34

    I think that Mary Walsh should be commended for coming out and saying what noone else will about the failure of the methadone program. Thanks Mary, I admire you.

  • amazed
    April 18, 2012 - 08:27

    "Walsh is a member of the provincial health minister’s committee on mental health and addictions" What qualifications does a celebrity have for such an apparently lofty position? Her comments about medicine's involvement are potentialy detrimental to the whole process of treating addicts. As well, an addict made a choice to start drugs and therefore has to decide to get off them. If they don't want to stop no amount of intervention is going to help, try as you might. I see addicts frequently in my work, and loss of family, children, housing, income, health has yet to deter them. Sad but until they get the proper insight it's hard to help them when they show no interest in the options available. I do agree we need to see improvemnt in treatment options for drug abuse.

  • wayne
    April 18, 2012 - 07:45

    Maybe now that a celebrity is talking about this something will get done. The waiting list for the provincial clinic is MONTHS long. The price of oxy's is rising every day. People are going to be killed because of may the the addicts or it may be some innocent person like a store clerk. Ms Walsh is right, that in some ways methadone is even worse than oxy's because it can take years to get off methadone......and it's also pretty easy for a doctor to just give out another prescription every now and then instead of having to work thorugh getting some desperate addict off drugs.

  • Ludicrous
    April 18, 2012 - 07:35

    Thank you Mary Walsh... leading expert in everything. This is one of the most poorly behaved individuals I've ever had the misfortune to meet. Perhaps she should turn her activism inwards towards herself.

    • JP
      April 18, 2012 - 08:24

      To LUDICROUS: You're personal opinion of Mary Walsh has little to do with the opinion she has expressed here. I work in a field where I see the repercussions of drug addiction almost every day. I happen to agree with Mary Walsh on this one, and my opinion of her(whether positive or negative) has little to do with my views. I think methadone treatment is a band-aid solution and that it doesn't stop the addiction, it just switches the focus to a different addictive drug! And no, I'm no expert either!