DAMIEN'S STORY: ON THE PROGRAM IN A SMALL TOWN
Damien doses in a small village in regional NSW and has been on methadone for 12 years.
I’ve lived on the outskirts of a small village in Northern NSW since 1976 and started on the methadone program 12 years ago. There’s only one clinic here; the next closest one is 50 kilometres away.
The clinic is small, and the staff are friendly – they go out of their way to make you feel like a person, and you can have a decent conversation with the nurses. The only thing is, you have to jump through a lot of hoops, more if you want takeaways.
I know some of the rules are standard across all clinics, but things are different when you live in a small town. Everyone knows everyone, which can be good or bad.
I go to the clinic early in the morning, and there’s usually about 20 of us there – all the out of towners. It opens again later, and that’s when the townies get dosed, entering via the hospital or through the back so no one sees.
The cops drive past the clinic real slow with their smartphones out, taking photos – maybe they have a database of who uses, or maybe it’s just to intimidate us. On the way back from the clinic the other day, they pulled up my flat mate’s car, made us get out then asked him where he’d just been. He said the methadone clinic and the policewoman said “oh, so you’re a junkie then,” and accused him of selling me drugs. I tried to explain he was handing me grocery money and she just pushed me hard in the chest and told me to step away.
There are some awfully specific and restrictive rules at my clinic. For example, you’re not allowed to come into town on the days that your takeaways cover you for, which is really hard. It isn’t really enforced anymore, but the clinic can use it against you if they so choose. I get that the rule is there to stop people diverting their doses or trying to score, but we still need to live our lives!
Another of the rules restricts any social interactions between us and the staff at the clinic. One of the workers upstairs knows I love Dr Who and the Dune movies, so she started giving me DVDs and USB sticks of films she thought would interest me. The big bosses in charge of the clinic didn’t like that – they don’t live here, so they don’t understand the social dynamics of living in a small town.
Similarly, one young fellow here had nowhere to wash his clothes, so a nurse did his laundry at home as a favor. Someone snitched to the bosses, and she got in a lot of trouble. There is to be no social interaction between ‘us’ and ‘them’!
You can get takeaways when you’re on the program – as long as you play the game. It’s not too hard, you just have to be on the program for a while and provide a drug-negative urine sample. Abstinence is the only option.
People are treated differently depending on their ‘risk’ level – there are six options, ranging from having someone standing directly in front of you watching you pee, to just doing it yourself. Dye is added to the toilet cistern water to stop you diluting your sample. It’s dehumanising.
If you’re caught with benzos in your system, you lose your takeaways instantly. They retested my urine 3 times to make sure I had enough valium in it to take my takeaways off me for 6 weeks – I’d only had half a valium the week before to help me sleep.
Of course, there are always going to be people who try to get around the system, because living without takeaways is simply too hard, especially when you have to travel to get dosed. I remember once, 6 people lost their takeaways in one go. They were all getting urine from one dude on the program who wasn’t using, but he was on psych meds and didn’t think to tell them. Everyone thought they were getting drug-free urine, and they were – except they all tested positive for the same antipsychotic medication.
I’ve never faced any stigma from the clinic staff directly though – most of them are really friendly and supportive. I remember once I had no money for my dose – it’s $5 for each takeaway, which isn’t always easy to scrounge up. I went in anyway and one of the nurses – my favourite – gave me credit. She told me she couldn’t bear to see anyone go without.
All in all, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages of being on the program for me. That includes the fact that I’ve tried to stop but I couldn’t handle the withdrawals. If I had my time over, I would have tried to find some other way to stop using. I wish I’d known more about the side effects, including how hard it is to get off. I think I’ll be on methadone for the rest of my life.