Have Vulnerable Manitouwadge Residents Been Forgotten Amid COVID-19 Changes

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Methadone - Image supplied by Ontario NewsNorth
Methadone - Image supplied by Ontario NewsNorth

By Katrina Hunter – Ontario Newsnorth – special to NetNewsLedger

MANITOUWADGE, ON – Though total numbers are difficult to acquire, there are at least a dozen individuals in Manitouwadge participating in a methadone treatment program to assist them on the road to recovery from addiction.

This piece was submitted to NetNewsLedger from Ontario Newsnorth. There is an update to the piece added at the bottom.

Several years ago, access to methadone locally was discontinued, forcing residents in the program to travel once or twice a week to the Pic Mobert Medical Clinic where, under the supervision of healthcare staff, they received the methadone prescription (a liquid that is ingested orally) to help continue a successful recovery from addiction. Among the terms agreed to by participants of the program is submitting a urine sample prior to receiving their prescription of methadone to help assure that they haven’t veered from their recovery by using drugs not prescribed to them which could have severe consequences, including the potential for overdose or even death.

Participants begin with twice a week prescriptions and it is usually not until they have consistently provided clean urine samples (this can take upwards of a year of careful monitoring for many people) that they then graduate to once a week prescriptions.

Unfortunately with the recent closure of the community of Pic Mobert to non-residents of the band, these individuals were unable to continue visiting to participate in the methadone program which has helped them stay the difficult path of recovery they’re on. Thankfully the Manitouwadge Pharmacy began providing an option for those needing the bi-weekly or weekly methadone prescriptions during this time but with one important change – the urine samples participants are usually obliged to provide to keep them healthy and avoid the dangers of negative pharmacodynamic interaction are not required. Without the precaution of urine samples prior to being provided with their methadone prescriptions these individuals are being exposed to unnecessary risks and to further complicate the situation, at least one of the Manitouwadge doctors I spoke to was not aware of the changes that had occurred or that patients on the methadone program were now receiving their prescription in Manitouwadge without the need to provide urine samples beforehand.

These unintended secondary effects of the closure of Pic Mobert to this group of at-risk Manitouwadge residents seem to raise important questions about accessing healthcare in our community.

  • Why does the Manitouwadge Family Health Team or Sante Manitouwadge Health not offer a methadone program for its own residents working towards recovery?
  • How did at least 12 people find themselves without the safety parameters this part of their recovery program usually includes?
  • Why was our Family Health Team, or local doctors, not informed of such a significant change that leaves at least a dozen Manitouwadge residents at increased risk of relapse, overdose or even death?

Sante Manitouwadge Health has a lab that is capable of processing urine samples with the same speed and accuracy as was being done at the Pic Mobert Medical Clinic, it also has exceptional doctors, nurses and staff – it would seem all the things necessary to provide a methadone program that includes all the safety precautions it needs. There would also be the added privacy and convenience of accessing such a program in a more private setting in their own community (as opposed to the previous travels to Pic Mobert or current visits to a pharmacy in the centre of downtown where the risk to their privacy is much higher). Accessing a more carefully-monitored methadone treatment program through Sante Manitouwadge Health, or the MFHT, at the hospital patients could also potentially have access to the full range of services offered at our hospital, possibly including mental health supports, or other supports offered through our “health hub” while accessing their prescription.

People in recovery have the same right to care, and dignity as anyone else and it seems those in Manitouwadge who are courageously taking this particular path to recovery are slipping between some very large cracks in the system, unnecessarily exposing them to higher risks of overdose, relapse, or other potentially negative side-effects that could have fatal consequences.

UPDATE:

In addition to the challenges described above, White River residents participating in a methadone program (of which there are approximately a half dozen) are now being told to travel to Manitouwadge (a 3hr return trip) to receive their prescriptions. Though the Thunder Bay District Health Unit has told ALL Northshore residents NOT to travel between communities, these individuals are being told to do exactly that once or twice a week, depending on their treatment plan.

Every effort should be made for all Northern Ontario residents, whether they are fighting cancer, recovering from addiction, in need of mental health supports or coping with any other condition or disease, be able to access health care in their OWN communities. When facilities and staff exist to provide health care in the town a person resides, every effort should be made to accommodate providing the health care they need at home, in their community – this should include individuals living in Northern Ontario who have the courage to seek successful recovery strategies.

Regardless of your personal opinions regarding what efforts should or should not be made for people in recovery, it is obvious that by directing groups of people from neighbouring communities (like White River) to be travelling into Manitouwadge in direct contradiction to the Thunder Bay District Health Unit’s warnings for residents not to travel between communities, puts everyone – including our seniors and front line / essential workers – at unnecessary risk and with each visit they make into Manitouwadge (rather than being provided with the care they require in White River) the risk of COVID-19 being introduced in Manitouwadge increases exponentially.

This is not someone else’s problem, this is a situation putting everyone in Manitouwadge at higher risk while failing to provide the individuals directly involved (people trying to maintain their successful recovery from substance abuse) equal access to healthcare all Canadians have a right to.