Troubling situation

Addictions It appears many people on methadone are doing cocaine, too

Steve Bartlett sbartlett@thetelegram.com
Published on May 15, 2010

A St. John's mother says her son's situation is putting her through hell. He's being treated for methadone, but appears to be getting high on cocaine.

"He's going to die one of these days," she says, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "He's not going to wake up. I see him coming home stoned. I know my son."

A St. John's mother says her son's situation is putting her through hell. He's being treated for methadone, but appears to be getting high on cocaine.

"He's going to die one of these days," she says, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "He's not going to wake up. I see him coming home stoned. I know my son."

He is in his early 20s and was addicted to OxyContin and Percocet.

It's the mother's understanding her son is among many people battling an opiate addiction with methadone, but using coke to get high.

The word on the street, she says, is that methadone users believe it won't show up in a urine sample or that doctors don't screen for cocaine because it's too expensive.

"They're all doing (coke), the majority," she said.

The mother's worries about cocaine appear warranted.

Ron Fitzpatrick is with Turnings, an organization that supports offenders and ex-offenders and helped with the setup of methadone treatment in the province.

He figures about 50 per cent of the people on methadone are using coke, too. He explained how they fly under the drug test radar.

"You get your methadone and, say Sunday, you say you do coke for three days or five days, and then for three days you won't. You drink lots of water and liquid and everything else, and when you got to get tested, there's nothing in your system. You're clean, but then you go back using coke for four days."

Dr. Jeff White is one of few doctors administering methadone treatment in the St. John's area.

Of the people he removes from the program, he says 95 per cent are doing coke.

"I'll give a patient a chance or two, but at some point, you gotta say, 'What's going on?'"

The worried mother fears the toll that mixing drugs might take on her son.

"It's very, very dangerous," she says.

Fitzpatrick agrees it's a recipe for disaster.

"You're working on two addictions then," he says. "You've got one going on in your muscles, in your body ... destroying your circulatory system, and now you're screwing with your head and also your major organs. You're really looking for trouble."

White says using coke while undergoing methadone treatment defeats the purpose.

"The point of being in a rehab program is to rehabilitate, whether it's from oxycodone, heroine or coke. If you just substitute one drug for another, how much better are you, really?"

As for doctors not checking for cocaine due to the expense, or the drug not showing up in urine tests, those who work in the field say that's not the case.

White requires patients to submit weekly urine tests for drugs, including cocaine. So does Eastern Health's methadone clinic in Pleasantville.

The other doctor in the St. John's area that offers public methadone treatment, Dr. Syed Rizvi, did not return phone messages from The Telegram. However, Fitzpatrick understands Rizvi asks for weekly tests as well.

The concerned mother says she hasn't heard of her son being screened since he began undergoing methadone treatment.

White explains that his patients are informed up front if there is cocaine or something else in their urine, he'll know.

"You have to throw it back on them - 'This is your program.' I don't have an addiction. I don't have any addiction. It's not my problem. I'm just here to show you what to do. Do you want to do it? Fine, but if you don't, well, eventually I'm going to say, 'Sorry, but there's 40 other people who want your spot.'"

The presence of cocaine, White points out, is detected easily and accurately.

"If they are even around it and handling it with their fingers and somehow ingest it on their lips or something, it'll probably show up."

Still, the doctor admits he can sit down for three hours and talk about how people alter their urine.

He notes you can even buy pee on the street in St. John's.

"That's the flaw with the system we have, in the sense that I ask you to go down to the hospital and do a urine sample, I get your urine test back (and) I can only assume it's your urine. If it's your uncle's, I don't know that."

White acknowledges weekly urine testing places a tremendous strain on the Eastern Health's lab.

Fitzpatrick realizes this, too, but he says the only way to prevent people from using cocaine while taking methadone is to test urine every day.

He doesn't think that'll happen.

"You're not going to see it every day, and that's how the guys can get away with it," he says.

The concerned mother wishes there was a solution to help her son.

She says he was doing well on methadone but has started going downhill since he began doing cocaine.

It's a constant worry for her. She says her son has lost weight, has a drawn face and is living an unhealthy lifestyle that involves being up all night and in bed all day.

She says he hasn't been in trouble with the law, but she worries that might happen.

"He has no life," she says.

sbartlett@thetelegram.com