Methadone: A Flicker Of Light In The Dark

Methadone: A Flicker Of Light In The Dark

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 A community on drugs: life after the crisis

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lilgirllost
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PostSubject: A community on drugs: life after the crisis   Tue Mar 16, 2010 11:38 am

This comes from the Candian Telegraph-Journal and the link to the original article is http://telegraphjournal.canadaeast.com/front/article/984334



A community on drugs: life after the crisis

Published Monday March 15th, 2010

Native affairs In 2004, Health Canada declared Oromocto First Nation a 'community in crisis' as drug abuse reached epidemic proportions. It is still recovering.

OROMOCTO FIRST NATION - Cindy Sacobie has lost a lot of what has meant the most to her in life.


She watched her husband, Brian, die of alcoholism last year when he was 44, leaving her to raise their three sons alone. She has struggled with her own addiction to the painkiller Dilaudid and once lost her job for a year because of it.

Until she got clean three years ago, she'd lost her self-respect.

"All our money went into the drugs," says the 41-year-old.

Six years ago, Sacobie was among the majority - as high as 85 per cent - of residents in this small aboriginal community east of Fredericton who were addicted to drugs.

At that point, drug use and crime had reached epidemic proportions. At least one person in every house in this small community of about 220 suffered an addiction to prescription drugs or other type of narcotic.

Crime had become so rampant that families had to make sure there was someone home at all times to ward off break-ins by addicts who were desperate to find goods they could sell quickly to buy drugs.

Deals were going down every night on every street corner and young women were prostituting themselves to make a fast buck to spend on their habit.

In 2004, Health Canada declared Oromocto First Nation a "community in crisis."
But today, the situation is much different in the Oromocto First Nation community, which opened the first on-reserve methadone clinic four years ago to help drug addicts stave off the physiological effects of the addiction.

It's also helped that the community has had steady economic growth with the band opening a gas bar in 1998, Days Inn hotel in 2006, canoe-building facility, two video lottery terminal lounges and other businesses to create jobs in recent years.

When Roger Atwin was first elected as chief here in 1999, the outlook was bleak.
"I walked into a bad situation," he says.

"We were $1.2 million in debt and had only $200 in the bank."

Today, the band generates 70 per cent of its revenue from its business ventures. The remaining funding comes from the government.

Its unemployment rate, which 10 years ago was close to 100 per cent, now sits at 20 per cent, significantly lower than the near 50 per cent average in most native communities in New Brunswick.

One in five Oromocto First Nations residents receives social assistance.

Band manager Karen Paul says the community worked hard in the years following the difficult financial situation in the 1990s to focus on economic development and this has led to increased employment.

However, she says, the drug problem hit the community hard and steps had to be taken to deal with it.

"We focused the first few years of this administration's mandate on economic development because we knew we needed the finances but we had to recognize we had a very sick community," Paul says.

Margaret Paul, the community's health director, says the drug use was so rampant that she feared it would destroy Oromocto First Nation.

"I sat down with the chief to tell him how bad the situation was and I said, 'if you do absolutely nothing and the status quo remains, then the people are going to be wiped out in less than 10 years from Hep C and HIV,'" says Paul, who pushed for government funding and local band approval for the methadone clinic.

At that point, the chief gave the go-ahead for the methadone clinic.

Paul says the drug epidemic left 40 people in the community with Hepatitis C.

Nearly half of the community is currently taking methadone.

These days, Oromocto First Nation is a community in healing, trying to bolster itself and its inhabitants.

Sacobie is among those rebuilding their lives and is a symbol of the strength rising in the community.

She works full-time, is raising her sons, who are now ages 14 to 23, and is staying clean.

She's proud of herself, though it's hard for her to admit. She's modest and doesn't see herself necessarily as a strong person, but knows she's been through a lot and was able to come out on the other side.

She feels good about herself. She's a striking woman, five-foot-nine with long brown hair and a pleasant smile.

The drug crisis took hold in Oromocto First Nation, she says, because people "weren't strong enough to say no to drugs."

With few jobs and a poor economic outlook years back, people had little hope for a better future, she says.

For her, she used drugs to forget her problems, which included financial worries, her husband's drinking and concerns about her kids getting into trouble with the law.

"I just wanted to forget it," she says "I didn't want to do anything.
"I just wanted to sit here and get high. I didn't care anymore."

At the height of the addiction that Sacobie shared with her husband, they stole their children's TV, Nintendo and other electronics to pawn for drug money. They were drug addicts who spent every cent they could on drugs - sometimes snorting 15 to 20 crushed pills and spending as much as $200 a day.

"We always needed to get high so we would take (our children's) things, our things, pawn them off and we would have nothing," she says.

"It got so bad on the reserve that people were stealing from each other."

She remembers a particularly low point about four years ago when she was craving a fix and didn't have the money to buy drugs. Sick with withdrawal from the drugs and laying on the couch, her 10-year-old son, not wanting her to feel ill anymore, went out to shovel driveways and brought home $20 so that she could buy her pills and feel better.

'This is what really what kicked me in the ass," Sacobie says, with gut-wrenching honesty.

"Brian and I thought, 'we don't want our kids to follow in our footsteps.'"

Sacobie hit rock bottom when she lost her job at the band office because of her drug habit. Going through withdrawal, she was having seizures at work and her life was falling apart.

Soon after, she entered the methadone program.

After taking methadone for nearly four years to stave off her drug cravings, she hopes to wean herself off the synthetic opiate and continues to put her life back together.

Without the help of friends and co-workers, she says, she wouldn't have her children with her, wouldn't have been able to get her job back and she wouldn't have her life back.

"I'd probably be on welfare," she says.


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