Relapses are an initial common occurrence in the substance abuse treatment process. (Contributed)

Part five: The opioid crisis and the North Okanagan

Combatting the stigma surrounding the opioid crisis

In light of the national opioid crisis, Interior Health is asking the public to respond with more compassion in the hopes to help appeal to and transition more people into treatment and recovery.

Dr. Karin Goodison, a Vernon public health officer who works with Interior Health, said that stigma plays a significant role in people’s ability to access services safely.

“We have a lot of work to do in the way of how we view people who use substances,” she said.

Megan Desimone, manager of mental health and substance use services for Vernon Interior Health, agreed.

“Shame and stigmatization is very isolating and it keeps people in these silos and they don’t reach out for help for fear of what the ramifications will be,” Desimone said.

Perhaps one of the most highly debated treatments offered by Interior Health is opioid agonist therapy (OAT). OAT is a treatment for dependency for different types of opioids including heroin, oxycodone, and fentanyl. The therapy involves taking the medications methadone or suboxone to prevent the effects of withdrawal and reduce cravings for opioids.

Methadone treats chronic pain and opioid addiction while suboxone treats opioid dependence only.

“We have the downtown methadone clinic and our staff are embedded in that clinic,” said Desimone.

“It’s a nurse and a support worker and their whole focus is to get people into the program or maintain those who are already in the program.”

Turning Points’ Bill’s Place is a sober living home operating in Vernon.

Brad Houghton, manager of addiction services at Turning Points, said he sees a need for methadone in helping people get sober, but explained that Bill’s Place will not accept people taking methadone.

They will, however, accept people on suboxone.

“We take people on suboxone because it’s a partial agonist. Methadone is a full agonist and really what that means is that on methadone, your brain thinks you’re high,” he said.

“It’s a synthetic opiate so we won’t take someone at Bill’s Place on methadone because it’s an abstinence-based program.”

James (name changed to protect his identity and safety) is a former heroin addict, alcoholic and eventual meth user.

He used methadone as a catalyst to sobriety.

“People do say that you’re not clean if you’re on methadone but if it works for that person, then why not?” he asked.

“Eventually I got used to not being high and then I quit the methadone but a lot of people stay on it forever.”

James has also felt the negative affects of stigma in the face of his addiction. Though he thinks Vernon has made huge strides in the “right direction” in recent years, he still hopes his story has impact and helps shed some light on the struggle many face.

“You never know what somebody has been through so to judge them is pretty hurtful because you could be in their shoes tomorrow,” he said.

“I used to look down on the people downtown because I had a lot of money and I had a family at home but there I was, right next to them, doing the same thing. All I can say is that it happens fast.”

James has relapsed in the past but has successfully remained sober for over two years.

Today, having successfully graduated from Bill’s Place, he prides himself as being a good father.

“I think once we change the stigma around what it is we’re dealing with and if we could get our minds around the idea that these people are sick, then we’ll all be better for it, ” said Houghton. “It would amazing to live in a community that could provide help for the people who are hopeless.”

Part One: The opioid crisis and the B.C. Interior

Part Two: Overdoses overwhelming in B.C. Interior

Part Three: Services offered to combat Vernon’s opioid crisis

Part Four: The opioid crisis and the B.C. Interior

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