A recovering opiate addict who is now on the methadone program was advised by his immediate supervisors not to tell the owners of the company he works for he's on the program.
Adam M. faces daily harassment in his workplace. He is mocked and jeered by his coworkers and supervisor.
But there is no human resources advisor who can help him. No workplace harassment policy he can invoke.
Adam M. is a recovering opiate addict now on the methadone program. But the owners of the company for which he works do not know this. He was advised by his immediate supervisors not to tell them.
“They’ve had so many addicts come through here, I’d get fired immediately,” said Adam, whose name is not Adam M., but whose name The Guardian has agreed to protect for this story.
But this 21-year-old man is no longer in the throes of his addiction. He has no criminal record, unlike many who have struggled with the same addiction to prescription pills he has suffered with for years.
He began smoking marijuana at age 12. Then moved to snorting Percocet at 14. He says he swore he would never become an IV drug user. But eventually, he was injecting Hydromorphone.
Then he became a father.
“After my first child was born, I rarely remember that happening. I figured I should probably stop, otherwise I wouldn’t remember anything.”
So he reached out for help. Before he could get on the long waiting list for the methadone program, he had to prove he was truly committed to changing his life and leaving the pills behind.
After two months of staying clean, he was finally permitted on the list. Two years later, he began his daily methadone treatments.
But despite the fact methadone is proven to be one of the most effective treatments for opiate addiction, Adam and many others on methadone face a regular dose of discrimination.
Adam says he endures daily taunting from his coworkers.
“They’re always making fun of it. Anytime I go to get it, it’s a big deal, asking why I need it and telling me I don’t need it,” he said.
“They go on about it, telling me it’s no better (than street drugs) because I’m addicted to this now, and I can’t go a single day without it. I think they don’t really understand it.”
It’s a situation many recovering opiate addicts face in P.E.I., not only in their workplaces, but even from some doctors, says Dr. Don Ling, medical director for the methadone program in P.E.I.
“There’s a group of physicians who, when they know a patient is an addict, they just don’t want to deal with them very much… they just write them off,” Ling said in a recent interview with The Guardian.
“It’s so sad to see that, because as a profession, we’re significantly involved in the creation of the disease in many of the cases.”
Data compiled by the Health Department shows prescriptions for the top five opioids in P.E.I. - Percocet, Tylenol 3, Dilaudid, Morphine and Ocycodone - have been rising steadily over the last five years. They grew by an average of 17 per cent between 2009 and 2012 with over 5 million tablets of these five medications prescribed in P.E.I. in 2012.
In the meantime, the methadone program has also seen tremendous growth. It began in 2004 with just nine patients. As of June 26, there were over 230 Islanders on the program with another 80 on the waiting list.
About 50 people are added to the program every year.
Ling told the Standing Committee on Health and Social Development in June that 60 per cent of those on the methadone program end up drug-free and back in the workforce, leading productive lives.
But it’s not an easy road.
“People don’t understand – to get into the methadone program, it’s a tremendous commitment. It’s not a simple ticket to an easy life. It’s an opportunity, and that’s the way I present it,” Ling said.
Adam M. sees it that way too. He has turned his life around and is now working a regular job, supporting his family.
He wishes his participation in the methadone program could be seen in the greater community the way it is in the addiction community – as a tangible sign an addict is making a change for the better.
“Everyone makes their mistakes. I understand people being worried about addicts working for them… But if people are putting an effort to stay clean, give them the benefit of the doubt.”