This is one in a series of feature stories by Black Press journalists on the effects of the opioid crisis in Greater Victoria.
Terry Marion got into drugs at a very young age.
He grew up very poor in Alberta, just south of Edmonton, and struggled with addiction his whole life. Over the years, Marion tried several different treatments but started on methadone in 2002. He’s been on it since.
“It’s been a lifesaver,” Marion said. “It’s given me a life back.”
Marion decided to get treatment when he found out he was going to be a grandfather.
“It took a few years but I actually became a nanny for about 10 years when the boys were born,” Marion said. “It’s been very instrumental to me getting off drugs and alcohol.”
A little more than a year ago, he moved to Langford and became one of the first patients at the AIDS Vancouver Island clinic on the West Shore. Now, he’s a peer support worker with AVI and is helping other people turn their lives around.
“It’s nothing like I’ve experienced before,” Marion said. “I just feel very fortunate to be a part of it.”
The West Shore clinic opened its doors in October 2017 after noticing many patients accessing addictions services downtown were coming from the West Shore.
In the last year, the clinic has provided care for more than 170 people struggling with opioid use disorder. Among those people, 105 were new to opioid agonist therapy, a style of treatment that provides methadone or Suboxone to patients to prevent withdrawal and reduce opioid cravings.
“We deliver care quite differently than other opioid agonist therapy clinics,” said Dr. Randal Mason, a doctor at the clinic. “It’s really team-based with lots of wraparound services … we follow up on people closely.”
The clinic also provides family medicine for its patients as well as access to social work and support groups.
Mason said the average retention rate across the province for people staying on treatment is about 70 per cent, but the AVI clinic’s rate is around 90 per cent.
“I think it’s because we also offer primary care,” he said. “We are also pretty low barrier … if you’re a no-show we don’t charge any fees. Sometimes people come in for other resources, and we also will call and remind patients of appointments.”
Many West Shore patients are using opioids in private, Mason said, noting that some have families and full-time jobs, and are trying to hold several things together. “We try to lift them up before they hit rock bottom.”
About 70 per cent of the clinic’s patients are men and a majority of them are between age 30 and 49, although some are under 30 and working in the trades.
Hermione Jefferis, the manager of health promotion and community development with AIDS Vancouver Island, said the clinic has even seen patients through pregnancy and have grown attached to their families.
Jefferis and the clinic’s registered nurse, Carolyn Showler, worked downtown and said the demographic on the West Shore is very different. Opioid use disorder is still prevalent in the area – with people using in secret or in private – and the two are trying to let more people know the clinic exists.
“When you think about Port Renfrew all the way down to here, that’s a lot of people who aren’t getting services,” Jefferis said. “We also have some patients who live up the Malahat.”
The clinic is also working to diminish the stigma around opioid use disorder and seeking care, something Gloria Patterson hopes goes away soon.
The mother of two addicts, both of whom have accessed services at the clinic, Patterson herself attends support groups offered by the clinic. Having services available on the West Shore – outside downtown – is crucial, she said, because her sons do not want to go to areas where drugs are more openly used.
“I’ve seen them go through withdrawal and struggle to try to get used to their Suboxone prescription,” she said. “In the groups, it’s wonderful to speak your mind and see other people who have gone through what you’ve gone through.”
Patterson appreciates that the clinic is facilitating more conversations about issues surrounding opioid use disorder, as it allows more people, including her sons, to get help the help they need.
“I think our society has to change … most people actually know people that are dealing with this,” she said. “Everyone that goes into AIDS Vancouver Island is treated with respect and dignity… these things help.”
This article is part of a special report on Greater Victoria’s opioid crisis. Find more at vicnews.com. For resources in Greater Victoria, find Black Press Media’s Overdose Prevention Guide online or pick up a print version at our Victoria office, 818 Broughton St.