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When the cure becomes the addiction: Weaning patients off methadone

Last Updated May 14, 2016 at 10:54 am EST

Methadone helps patients overcome their addictions to painkillers and other opiates, but Ontarians are increasingly becoming addicted to the cure – and the costs are skyrocketing.

Data obtained by CityNews reveals that the number of Ontarians using methadone has jumped by 31 per cent since 2012. Brian Paolino, a former addict and now addictions counsellor, was one of them.

“I was on methadone for 10 years,” said Paolino. “I got on it in 2002 and got off in 2012.”

He credits hard work and methadone with saving his life, but says quitting the cure was just as hard as kicking his original habit.

“It was hard. I didn’t go to detox. I had to do it as an out-patient with my family doctor.”

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Go to YouTube and you’ll see dozens of user accounts outlining their difficulties with methadone detox.

“We know that so many people are taking methadone and so many of them are ready to transfer off,” explains NDP health critic France Gelinas.

“They are ready to turn their lives around and we offer no supports whatsoever for them to be successful in this. It’s shameful.”

Its also expensive.

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Taxpayers foot the bill for what could be life-long treatment. Ontario Drug Benefit costs have jumped 37 per cent, to a whopping $56.53-million in the 2014/15 fiscal year. That’s on top of the $117.51-million paid out to physicians in 2014/15 for methadone-related services.

Without supports to help wean patients off of methadone, many will simply continue to follow the regiment, which could include daily trips to clinics and frequent urine tests.

Gelinas says many users don’t want a life-long addiction to methadone and treatments, but are rarely encouraged to reduce its use.

“They want to transition off the drug and there are no supports there to help them. They feel like its money-grabbing from the physicians who don’t want to let them go, because that’s how they make a practice.”

Last month the province revealed that 25 methadone/addictions doctors earned over $1-million – nearly three times the average physician’s salary.

While there are strict guidelines and procedures for prescribing and administering methadone, there are few for helping patients move beyond the treatment.

Ministry of Health staff say the province is examining ways methadone clinics can better serve their clients by providing more than just a dose of the synthetic drug, but its part of a much larger review of the Ministry’s narcotics strategy. At this point, it is not clear when or if a final report will be issued.

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