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Inside a Fredericton opioid program, where dozens of people ‘are getting their lives back’

Stephen Menard found himself struggling while trying to get medical care for his chronic pain.

But 18 months ago, he says he found himself a “godsend.”

River Stone Recovery Centre in downtown Fredericton opened in July 2020 and started an injectable opioid agonist treatment program in October of that year. 

The program allows participants with treatment-resistant opioid-use disorder to get an individualized liquid hydromorphone prescription that can be taken up to three times each day by self-injection in the clinic.

“I don’t have to wake up and figure out where I’m going to get my medication for the morning, afternoon, the whole day,” said Menard.

“That stability of every day. That’s one humongous stress that’s off my shoulders.”

A desk with mirrors and orange dividers with sharps bins on the dividers.
The injectable program allows participants with treatment-resistant opioid use disorder to access a liquid hydromorphone prescription that can keep them stable. (Jonathan Collicott/CBC)

Menard said his opioid use began because of multiple motor vehicle accidents that resulted in leg, hip, back and neck pain. But because of barriers to getting properly medicated, Menard said he turned to the street for drugs, not knowing if they were coming from a trustworthy source.

89% of program participants housed after 2 years

The injectable treatment program has 62 participants, with more than 300 people in total seeking services such as oral medication and therapy at the clinic.

Dr. Sara Davidson, a family doctor and the medical director of the clinic, said according to a recent survey conducted with participants, 90 per cent of those in treatment for more than six months had positive changes in their lives because of the program, including mental and physical health improvements and reduced conflict.

She said there has also been a 100 per cent decrease in sex work for the participants.

“These results offer all of us a glimmer of hope that treatment is the best way to reduce drug-related crime. A large majority of participants are remaining in the program, and most have remained out of the criminal justice system,” said Davidson.

“But even better, slowly but surely, they are getting their lives back.”

Christine Cross, the program director at River Stone who created the survey, said after 18 months in the program, only 17 per cent of participants were using opioids outside of the injection program. She said of that number, many were only using outside the program when they were sick or unable to make it into the clinic for their dose.

inside a fredericton opioid program where dozens of people are getting their lives back 1
Program director Christine Cross said 84 per cent of program participants were homeless at some point, but after two years of being in the program, 89 per cent had stable housing. (Jonathan Collicott/CBC)

Cross said there have been good outcomes for those in the program getting into housing.

She said 84 per cent of those taking part in the treatment were homeless at some point, but after three months of treatment, 20 per cent had housing. After six months, that doubled to 40 per cent and after two years in the program, Cross said 89 per cent of participants had stable housing.

‘So much potential’ says medical director

Davidson said there are a lot of stereotypes around people with addictions, but she said there are a range of people who attend the program. She said they’re creative, resilient and have varied life stories.

“Given the right circumstances, anyone can reach their potential,” said Davidson.

WATCH | Health care — not jails — reduces drug-related crimes, says Dr. Sara Davidson:

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Program offers positive changes, medical director says

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Dr. Sara Davidson says River Stone Recovery Centre has led to decrease in illegal activity among participants, but barriers are still felt.

She said the clinic is lobbying the Higgs government for more housing. They are trying to show that providing stable housing is the best way “to get in front of drug-related crime,” she said.

“We could look at building jails. But to be honest, that money will be much better invested in creating housing units. The $32-million jail would probably get us about 450 new units for the Fredericton area, if you look at a housing first model,” said Davidson. “So there’s so much potential in how we could provide housing for people.”

River Stone opened a clinic in Saint John in July, and Davidson said she would like to expand across the province. She said there are people in rural communities who are struggling and could benefit from the program. 

Looking to the future

For Menard, it’s important to share his own experience with addiction and recovery because he wants people to know that people with addictions are all individuals.

He said he’s now on a proper medication regimen and said he’s “fortunate” to have an apartment, but it “eats up” a lot of his income. He said as he looks toward the future, he would love to have a stable job.

 “I’m a work in progress. And this is a huge cornerstone for building upon.”

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