Bell Island fought for an addictions clinic. And now it’s got one

Nicole Martin-Boone was addicted to opioids for seven years. The way she was living during that time wasn’t really a life, she says.

But that changed nearly four months ago, on the day she started suboxone on Bell Island.

“I woke up on April 8 of this year and that is my — that’s my new birthday,” Martin-Boone said.

She had tried the treatment before, but that was when people with addictions issues had to take the ferry into Portugal Cove-St. Philips everyday.

That was too much of a barrier, she said.

Suboxone helps people wean themselves off opioids, and if the boat wasn’t running, anyone on the program from the island would have to do without.

‘I missed everything’

According to the health authority, 26 people are seeking treatment at the new Bell Island opioid dependency clinic. Advocates say that’s out of between 70 and 100 people who could benefit from Suboxone or methadone. There are about 2,200 people currently living on Bell Island.

Since Eastern Health opened up the clinic and removed the ocean between people and treatment, Martin-Boone says her days — which used to be consumed with trying to find a fix — feel longer.

“The grass is greener, things taste better, the sky is bluer,” she said about life without addiction.

“Just the little things. I missed everything.”

She missed her kids’ birthdays. She didn’t graduate high school. She watched friends die from overdoses and dirty needles. At points, she had lived in a tent.

But she fought to change all that.

Moms make change

Martin-Boone, her mom, and a group of other mothers and their children with addictions, fought to try and fix the situation on Bell Island.

They started groups called Heal Bell Island and In Good Hands and began running a clean needle exchange out of a donated RV — giving out clean supplies to try and reduce the spread of communicable disease related to injection drug use.

The exchange, and other groups on the island, worked to build peer support networks.

People, including Martin-Boone, advocated to get Suboxone and methadone on the island so they had better access for people who wanted to transition out of addiction.

At first, In Good Hands was going through about 4,000 needles a month. Now that’s down to about 300 — roughly a 90 per cent reduction.

Brian Rees attributes that result to the “buy in” from people with addictions — people he refers to as “the kids.”

“They were ready,” Rees said, crediting the mothers, “the kids,” the needle exchange and the work done around awareness.

“They were the driving force behind everything. If not for them, nothing would have happened.”

Rees says since the clinic opened in the Dr. Walter Templeman Health Care Centre, there’s been a reduction in crime on the island and less stigma around addiction.

He said academics are working on a cost analysis.

The future

Martin-Boone describes the drug problem on Bell Island as “huge.”

She says people who are actively addicted to opioids are watching the clinic, and people like her, to see how the program works.

For her friends who are getting treatment, she says it’s like a “grey cast” has been lifted off them. She’s proud of them for defying the people who didn’t think they could ever do it.

Her group hopes to travel around and bring its method of moms and peer support to other rural communities struggling with addiction.

One day, they’d like to open a sober living facility on the island.

And they continue to advocate for better local services. Right now, Martin-Boone is concentrating on counselling.

According to Eastern Health, “the clinic is staffed by a team of health care professionals trained in opioid treatment, including three physicians, a mental health nurse, a mental health and addictions counsellor, social worker, pharmacy personnel, a nurse practitioner, registered nurses and licensed practical nurses.”

In addition to that work, Martin-Boone is also concentrating on herself. She’s going back to school in September. Once she gets her GED, she’s not sure exactly what she’ll concentrate in. But she wants to keep doing what she’s doing.

“There’s still a lot of people I know who are still very sick,” she said.

“But I feel like I found a way out and now I can kind of come back for them too.”

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