Methadone should be last resort: Mary Walsh

Barb Sweet
Published on April 18, 2012
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.”