Tuesday, 18 June 2013

My radio debut on CBC re: addictions


This week, I was part of Island Morning's series on addiction. Thank you to Kerry Campbell for the wonderful discussion about addiction, and to CBC for giving a lot of air time to this important topic.

Here is the link:  Rose Barbour - Living in the Shadows

Part 1 and 2 are combined. Part 3 is separate. Be sure to listen to both recordings!

Thursday, 13 June 2013

What Research Tells Us About Addiction Treatment

As published in The Guardian on June 12, 2013 

By Rose Barbour

When it comes to treatment, it is a popular belief that addicts have to want to get clean, which usually happens when they hit rock bottom. We hear this from people in recovery, from people who treat addiction, and from friends and family who have heard this over the years. This is the standard advice when you are dealing with a loved one's addiction. While many believe this to be true (perhaps it was the case for them), there are two problems with it: first, death is rock bottom for some people, and second, research doesn't support this belief.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which supports most of the world's research on addiction, whether an addicted person goes into treatment voluntarily or is forced into it (i.e. through the courts), the outcomes are equal for both groups. When in treatment for an adequate amount of time, the unwilling participants start to feel better and think more clearly. Self-motivation begins to develop and many continue on in treatment and then recovery.

On P.E.I., we are not allowed to force people into treatment (we should look at this based on the outcomes). For now, we have to wait until our loved ones say they want help. When that happens, treatment has to be readily available. Currently, this is not what is happening. If Addiction Services is to keep up with the demand, a significant financial investment has to be made. It is inhumane to let people suffer or die from an illness that is treatable without offering them every opportunity possible to find recovery. Families and communities also suffer when treatment options are inadequate. We have to do a better job.

Because drug abuse and addiction have so many dimensions and disrupt so many aspects of an individual's life, treatment is not simple. What works for one person will not work for another. It doesn't mean that one person wants recovery more than another. It simply means that more work has to be done to figure out what will motivate the other person to take the often scary step toward treatment. By expanding our offerings - based on what is shown to be most effective - addictions workers will have many tools at their disposal to help their clients.

It is important to meet the addicted individuals where they are at and treat accordingly. Some need maintenance programs such as Methadone or Suboxone that will help to stabilize them so they can focus on positive things such as treatment, family, work, school, etc. They will also stay out of jail and, most importantly, stay alive while they try to get better. Others may be ready to go to residential treatment while some would benefit more from an intensive outpatient program.

As the provincial government holds public hearings on addiction, I hope that any resulting policies or changes will follow NIDA's Principles of Drug Addiction, some of which include the understanding that: no single treatment is appropriate for everyone; treatment needs to be readily available; remaining in treatment for an adequate period of time (at least three months) is critical; medically assisted detoxification is only the first stage of addiction treatment and by itself does little to change long-term drug abuse; and treatment does not need to be voluntary to be effective.

If we want to stop this epidemic from spreading, we have to invest in treatment and recovery programs. Limiting the supply of prescription drugs (namely, opiates) on the street is important for prevention but it will do very little for those already addicted. It will cause the price of these drugs to go up significantly when demand outweighs supply. This will lead to an increase in crime as addicts try to find the money. Some will turn to heroin, which is cheaper. The bottom line is that we have to effectively treat addiction if we are going to fix this problem.

On the Island, we have so many positives things in place already (several good people working in Addiction Services, existing facilities, and some programs) but we need to expand on these things in order to be effective and help as many people as possible. We have to make further investments, which will save money down the road and, more importantly, save lives. Research suggests that for every $1 spent on treatment, $12 is saved in other areas, including health, justice, and social services. On top of that, you cannot put a value on the life of one's child, spouse, mother, father, grandchild, sibling, and so on. Addiction treatment is a good, sound investment.

I can be reached at behindtheaddiction@gmail.com or on my blog at shadowsinpei.blogspot.ca.

Rose Barbour of Charlottetown has researched addiction, maintains a blog, participates in drug awareness programs and has spoken publicly on the subject of addiction.

Link to article 

Saturday, 8 June 2013


Sometimes, ideas for a blog entry come at the worst possible times. They were running through my mind today as I was taking some time alone to cry over my wonderful brother who we are losing to a brain tumor. He is 39-years-old and in palliative care. I don’t know if it is the rain or what, but today has been the worst for me since finding out a week ago that the tumor has grown and time is even more precious.

What kept running through my head were the similarities between cancer and addiction and how our understanding of them has evolved over time. Why? I suppose it is because my brother has one disease while my son has the other. Also, both diseases have caused our family much stress over the years and I’ve researched them both to varying degrees, trying to save two people that I love with all my heart.

One thing I’ve learned is that both cancer and addiction are diseases that were very much misunderstood and stigmatized at one time or another. Thankfully, it is no longer that way with most cancers (unfortunately, some types still carry unfair stigma), which gives me hope that addiction will one day be free of stigma, too, and that individuals battling the disease will receive quality care as they would with any disease. And, hope is what I need today.

In the early years, the taboo disease of cancer was rarely mentioned in public because it was steeped in fear and denial. Physicians sometimes did not tell their patients they had cancer, and patients often did not tell their friends and families if they had been diagnosed.1  

Addiction is still met with stigma, which is also based on fear and denial. It is still seldom talked about (but there are a lot of us trying to change that).  It is probably one of the most misunderstood diseases today, but one that almost everyone thinks they know everything about. I was one of those people, until I got up close and personal with it when it entered my home, and I began a journey of research and discovery in an effort to save my child!

In the 70s, it was widely believed that people with a “cancer personality”—depressed, repressed, self-loathing, and afraid to express their emotions—manifested cancer through subconscious desire. In other words, they had bad attitudes that caused cancer. Some thought that treatment to change the patient's outlook on life would cure the cancer.  This belief allowed society to blame the victim for having caused the cancer (by “wanting” it) or having prevented its cure by not becoming a sufficiently happy, fearless, and loving person. 2  When this ridiculous notion was proven otherwise, the public was educated about cancer in order to change these harmful perceptions.

People are also blamed for their addictions. It took a long time for brain imaging technology to come along but, because of it, science has also proven this notion of continuous choice to be false with addiction. Even with this important new information, there has been little to no public education campaigns that share these new findings. This lack of information to the public is why many people, maybe even you, still believe that addiction is a moral issue. In order to build compassion and understanding around this disease that is devastating so many of our families, a better job has to be done in educating people. Lives depend on it!

There are many of us speaking out now through social media and other channels to try to raise awareness and educate people but we can’t do it alone. Just as the various cancer society groups have advocated for their clients by educating the public, we need organizations working with addiction to do the same but they need funding. We need to support these organizations in battling what is one of the worst social and health issues facing us today. Addiction is claiming many lives while we sit idly by not knowing what to do. Many of these deaths are young people.

Thanks to the public awareness campaigns around cancer, people began to understand the nature of the disease and how it can touch any family.  The public demanded that the government invest more money into cancer research, and they invested their personal dollars as well. Investments are still being made today.  Now, thanks to the significant investment in cancer research, there have been wonderful advancements in prevention and treatment.

The advancements in cancer treatment have extended my brother’s life by more than five years and counting. In January of 2008, he was told he only had months to live. His wife was 8 months pregnant at the time. The doctors tried a new drug that was known – thanks to research – to slow the growth of brain tumors. If it worked, it would give him more time, which it did. This extra time allowed him to see his daughter being born and graduate from Pre-Kindergarten just recently. He also had more time with his then eleven-year-old daughter. The extra time is a blessing.

When I look back at my brother’s journey, I know whole-heartedly that he was provided the best possible treatment available for his brain tumor. I know that as I sit here and type this, he is being well cared for at one of our hospitals. This makes me feel good and at peace that all was done to save him.

I don’t have the same level of certainty and peace about my son’s journey with addiction. Anyone, anywhere, battling addiction knows about, and have been devastated by, the many gaps in the system that we didn’t know were there until we needed the services. There is a lot of work to be done to fill the gaps before one more young person is laid to rest from this treatable disease. The good news is that you can help!

For the most part, government invests money where the people want it most, but we have to let them know what our priorities are. You can help by simply contacting our Health Minister, Doug Currie, at dwcurrie@gov.pe.ca and our Premier, Robert Ghiz, at premier@gov.pe.ca, expressing your concerns about this addiction epidemic, and your desire to see something done to help Islanders battling this complex and life-threatening disease. You don’t have to send them lengthy emails (unless you are long-winded like I am). Just a simple note will go a long way. Or, you can contact them another way. The important thing is that you do reach out and make your voice heard.

Please join me and many of your neighbours in making this addiction epidemic a priority. You will save lives. Many youth (and others) who are lost to addiction need us to be their voices until such time that they can find their own.

In closing, I am dedicating this blog entry to my amazing brother who has made me laugh over the years in a way that only he could. He is someone special who I will miss for the rest of my life. It is also dedicated to my son who has maintained 21 days of recovery so far with his whole life ahead of him. I pray that he continues in recovery, and I am so grateful that his uncle got to see him getting better.


Sources quoted:
1.      American Cancer Society Website
2.      Wikipedia

Thursday, 6 June 2013



I wrote this letter to The Guardian, which was published on May 1, 2013. I thought I would share it here in case anyone missed it. 


I am very encouraged by the recent attention paid to the prescription drug epidemic on P.E.I. by both the government and the media.

In Saturday's edition of The Guardian, a wonderful family shared their painful story (‘Painkiller Epidemic') of their son's addiction. They voiced their frustration in manoeuvring through a system that, in the end, falls short of the intensive treatment needed for opiate addiction. When they shared their story, they shared our family's story and that of many others here on P.E.I.

This journey through addiction is very painful. Only another family going through the same thing could truly understand it. Your loved one is doing something that they could die from, and you are powerless over it. Despite your best efforts to create a healthy, happy home, drugs find their way in and your family is in for a long, hard ride. The stress of fighting a battle that cannot be won (without proper treatment) is so great that many family members end up suffering health problems of their own.

To make matters worse, the stigma attached to addiction prevents many family members from reaching out to others for help so we suffer in silence. We are forced to try to act normal to the outside world when our own world is in complete chaos and we are terrified of losing our loved ones every minute of the day. If it were any other serious issue, we would have strong support from friends, family, and community. Instead, our loved ones have addiction, which is still misunderstood by many.

Like the young man in the article, our family's loved one is also waiting for a detox bed at Mt. Herbert Addictions Treatment Centre. He's been on the waiting list for more than two weeks now. Feeling very depressed, he called again last night but they were not able to tell him how much longer he would have to wait. This is unacceptable. When an addict says they want help, it needs to be immediately available. The next day could be too late because they might change their minds or they could be dead. That is the reality of addiction.

When our loved ones do finally get into detox, there is seldom a treatment program available that they can start immediately afterward. These vulnerable patients are sent home, where a high percentage of them relapse back into active addiction. For most people, staying clean after you leave detox requires seamless entry into intensive treatment, followed immediately by strong out-patient recovery programs, and ongoing counselling (individual and/or group). It will take a significant investment in addiction services for these things to happen.

Addiction is a family disease. Until the investment in treatment and recovery programs is made - or there is easier access to the programs off-Island - families will continue to suffer. If you are a family member living this nightmare, you are not alone and there is some help for you. A good place to start is at an Al-Anon meeting or by talking to a trusted friend. You don't have to go through this alone.

I may be reached at behindtheaddiction@gmail.com or on my blog at shadowsinpei.blogspot.ca.

Rose Barbour lives in Charlottetown.