| Mar 03, 2005

Feature article, March 3, 2005

Feature article March 3, 2005

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Sure, you go ahead and try this; Debbie Breau and UNDUN

by Jeff Green

[The following article deals with the subject of heroin/morphine addiction. It contains a graphic description of the pains of opiate withdrawal, written by a former morphine addict, which our readers might find shocking.]

Debbie Breau has no illusions about the effects of heroin and morphine. She spent 30 years as a morphine addict before successfully shifting her dependency to methadone and finally becoming drug free a few years ago. Debbie Breau now lives in Henderson but she spends much of her time in Belleville and Kingston working for UNDUN (The Unified Networkers of Drug Users Nationally), a group she founded three years ago. UNDUN bases its work on the assumption that addiction is a medical condition which must be treated as such.

Debbie Breau told the News that she began taking morphine while she was in High School in Pickering, and developed an addiction that ruled her life for many years. She recalls that she stopped getting any kind of drug high within six months of taking morphine, but the withdrawal pains that plagued her kept her searching for a supply of the drug for the next 29 and a half years, at a cost that peaked at $500 per day, money she often raised by dealing drugs herself.

Its easy to get addicted. If you use continuously for one week, you will go through withdrawals if you stop, Debbie Breau said.


For anyone who sees romance in opiates, the following excerpt from an article by Debbie Breau might act as a cautionary tale.

Sure you go ahead and try this

A dead addict never recovers

Think of yourself for a moment and try to survive pain through your body.

Not just any pain. Let me suggest some pains for you to think about. A number of different pains surging through your body all at the same time, pains that will not go away in a few minutes or hours but stay and increase over the hours and get worse each day with out easing up for a moment. This will continue for two weeks or longer depending on which opiate your withdrawing from If its methadone then this will be 20 times stronger of pain surging through you for up to two months or three months getting 20 time worse each day as weeks go by.

Once the pain is passed then the emotional pain comes in and this goes on for six months to a year some for two years. Some kill themselves, some just cant stand it and start to use again

Now lets start with pain number one then add a new pain on top of each pain going on. All this pain will be going on in the body at once during withdrawal.

Think or imagine that someone has taken a knife and surged it through your stomach then ripped the slash up wards, back down and deeper into you as if the knife is reaching for your spine. Would you feel like getting up and walking around looking to get some help for yourself?

Now with that pain in place and going on, add this one along with it. Someone has just come up to you and broke your lower back. The back pain is so strong that you want to just die. Would you feel like getting up and walking around looking for help? Remember the other pain is happening along with this new pain added.

Now with your guts ripping and back breaking add another to the list. Think of every joint in your body from your toes up to your neck being twisted and stomped on with out letting up. Would you feel like walking around to get yourself help?

Stomach, Back, Joints: Now add to the list your esophagus rupturing from continuous gagging Would you feel like walking to get some help?

Now add chronic gas pains to that and your bowels letting loose. Would you feel like getting up and getting help? Could you even think that you could get up for help?

NOT DONE YET: Now add to all of this another pain that feels like your having a heart attack

STILL MORE: Now add to all of this that you cant breath, gasping for air yet cant feel as if your getting any. Think your going to stop breathing all together.

STILL NOT DONE: Now add to all of that the hottest inner body heat ever. The kind of fever that is way past what you would think is danger. Then two minutes later the worst feeling of freezing cold, the kind of cold you shiver so bad your body starts to seize up and your joints ach and become sore. Do you think you could possibly get up and walk around and get help for yourself?

Imagine someone going through all this pain and suffering knowing that all they need to rid this pain in just one minute and it be gone, is one pill or hit of an opiate to stop such sickness continuing.

This person suffering calling up the dealer as that is the only way to get the drug needed to get well again and the dealer being a un helpful and saying to this person NO just because this person has that power to allow this suffering to continue. Remember the dealers want this suffering to make the money. Remember the person addicted needs the drug to stop this pain and suffering. Always remember the difference between the two.

Now that the dealer wants more money from you before helping you. And you want to be out of this pain with NO ONE to help you. You understand its time to move before this pain keeps going on and getting even unbearable. NOW its time for desperation, time to rob, cheat, and scam, for some to just sell their bodies for money to get well again. Would you want to have to do this every day of your life? NO you sure wouldnt.

Thats what happens. You pull your pained body up and crawl out to the streets to make your money to get well again and this is when the user comes into contact with YOU THE community knowing you dont understand what they are going through. You are about to be robbed, or scammed or laid. This is how you come into the life of the suffering user.

After spending 30 years as an addict, Debbie Breau has not severed her connections to the community of users in Kingston and elsewhere since she has become morphine free, and she devotes much of her time to working towards changing the environment around intravenous drug use.

She argues that the criminal and health risks to users and to the general population are so great that only an alternative approach, a medicalization of opiates use, will yield results.

The methadone clinics are set up in such as way that I never could succeed with them. It was only when a doctor I knew, whose name I cant tell you, began giving me methadone on my own terms, that I began to deal with the addiction. Some people need to stay on methadone for the rest of their lives, but I was able to wean myself off methadone about 2 years ago.

This was not before contracting Hepatitis C however, an ailment that affects the liver, for which Breau takes treatments that cost about $2,000 per month. These will continue for a total of 48 weeks, but the good news for Debbie Breau is that her treatment has been very successful so far and she is currently free of the disease.

UNDUN has been active both in Kingston and Belleville in forging alliances with public health related agencies, from HIV/AIDS to Public Health Units.

A recent showing of the film FIX, about the Vancouver intravenous drug use problem, sponsored by UNDUN, played to a full house in a Kingston theatre recently. Debbie Breau says that she knows from experience that drug use is a real problem in Kingston, and even the rural areas surrounding it. She cites statistics from a recently released study describing the HIV epidemic in Kingston as unstable, and says the incidence is increasing among the intravenous drug user population, which made up 32% of the newly reported cases in 2003, up from 15% in 1985. Kingston ranks 4th in Ontario in HIV cases per capita and 6th in AIDS cases per capita.

Debbie Breau said that 73% of the Hepatitis C cases that have been reported in the region are intravenous drug users.

In order to deal with the situation, UNDUN advocates for the kinds of programs that have been common in some European Countries, such as Switzerland, for years. The impacts of these programs have been extensively studied and analysed, and a similar program is now being piloted in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. It not only makes methadone more easily available, but in some cases prescribes morphine and heroin for certain drug users.

Heroin or morphine works better than methadone for the hard core opiate user, says Debbie Breau.

She recognises that the prospect of giving free drugs to drug addicts seems counterintuitive to many, but takes the view that the so-called war on drugs, as it is called in the United States, is really a war on drug users that does little to reduce the amount drugs available.

What matters most is attracting the user to want to stay in treatment, otherwise they are a danger to themselves and everyone else, she said.

This kind of thinking is shared by agencies as mainstream as the Hastings, Prince Edward County Health Unit through their Harm Reduction Task Force,

which defines harm reduction in the following way:

Harm reduction is a set of practical/non-judgemental strategies that reduce negative consequences of drug use. It does not question drug use, and aims at improving the well-being of drug users. It includes strategies for safer use, for managed use, and abstinence. Harm reduction strategies meet drug users where they are at addressing personal and societal conditions leading to use, along with use itself. (http://www.hpechu.on.ca/Topics/Alcohol/harmReduction.php)

UNDUN is currently seeking a grant from the Drug Strategy Initiative Fund, which would enable it to set up an office in Kingston and/or Belleville to increase the scope of its advocacy.

For a drug free Debbie Breau, the temptation to walk away and leave the drug user population behind is not an issue.

I wont forget where I came from, and Im always going to help those that are still there, she concludes.

[Publishers note: I wish to make it clear that I do not endorse the opinion that opiate addiction is a medical condition, and I personally oppose the dispensing of heroin and morphine by government treatment programs. Jule Koch Brison]

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