Anita is in her early 50s. She came to WHOS to do the Residential Treatment for Opioid Dependence (RTOD) program to stabilise on her Opiate Substitution Treatment (OST) then transferred to OSTAR (Opioid Substitution to Abstinence Residential) program to come off her Suboxone. All up, she has been here for 9 months and is nearly off her dose.

UN: So why rehab?

A: I’ve been a drug user for 34 years and on OST for 20. I was on methadone for 16 years, then transferred to Suboxone for 4 years to get more takeaways. But I was using ice on top. I don’t even like ice but the heroin had no effect. I would sleep all day and then have ice on pay day so I could get the housework done and get to the doctor and actually socialise with people. I was so isolated.

I also came because I needed to be somewhere safe as I was being stalked by my violent ex. I had high anxiety and sought help from the psychiatric profession. But they didn’t believe me, just put me on anti-psychotics for my “delusions”. So when I came in here I shuffled like a zombie. I was totally shut down, disassociated. I didn’t talk to anyone.

I came in here to stabilise but after I finished the RTOD program I just felt so much more confident and alive and I thought, I can do this, I can come off. So I’ve nearly done that now and I feel great. It’s a very slow process, but just right.

UN: Going from years on OST to abstinence, have you had to change your thinking about how you see your drug use?

A: I saw myself as “clean” when I was on Suboxone but now my view has changed on that. But I do still believe that methadone saved my life. I was stable and employed. I see its value. Not once was I told I should be abstinent nor was anything ever implied that there was anything wrong with being on a program. It was all me. I just felt confident enough to try coming off.

At first I didn’t think I could do it, that the cravings would be too strong. Now I am nearly off and feeling comfortable. However, I will definitely go back on if I feel I am going to use again.

UN: How has being in a therapeutic community helped you?

A: You see people ahead of you change, so you feel you can do it. There is a real unity here, a sense of community. I know I can’t do it on my own. I need support and peer support is like none other. It’s about people who want to change their behaviour helping others to change their behaviour.

Because it is a therapeutic community it is run by the residents. The staff give us direction but we have a say in everything that affects us.

UN: How have the violence issues impacted on your treatment?

A: I have had huge support from the women in here. When I first told a worker she just accepted it as truth which was amazing for me. That acceptance started me on the path to change. They have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) groups in here, there is a big acknowledgement that many of need help with that.

UN: Would you recommend WHOS?

A: It’s the best thing I ‘ve ever done for myself. I had to wait 3 months, calling twice a week, to get in here. I am so glad I did it.

I did McKinnon (a former unit in Rozelle Hospital) in the 1980s. I was scared coming back, I thought I’d be scrubbing halls with a toothbrush. Things have really changed. It’s so much more compassionate now. It used to be degrading. You would be constantly attacked. Now you are encouraged to use your rights.

UN: I can’t believe you shuffled in here! You seem so connected and lively!

A: I am off all my psych medications. I feel so much better for it, I have so much clarity. I have moved onto anti-depressants. I resisted that at first, but it’s been the right thing. I had a lot of self-doubt, a lack of confidence. I used to just put up with stuff. That has changed.

I had a hep C test while in here. I knew I have been living with hep C for 30 years but I just couldn’t get to a clinic. I was living in a rural area and the clinic was over an hour away, it was too hard. I did the treatment in here. I had a bit of tiredness but no side effects I couldn’t manage. It was so easy, it was all arranged for me. They even have a fibroscan that comes in and Paul Haber from RPA comes in once a month. I just have to go to the hospital for the final test. Clearing my hep C after such a long time has been a huge thing for me.


SO WHY REHAB? Interview with Garth Popple

SO WHY REHAB? Interview with Garth Popple