Addicts quit to kick the habit

TWO Tamworth residents suffering ferocious withdrawal symptoms after quitting the methadone program have called for more support to assist addicts in weaning themselves off the drug.

Former heroin users Brett Johnston and Rachelle Kealy made the choice late last month to cease their daily doses of methadone after about 14 years.

The decision came amid disillusionment with changes to the program and what they claim is a lack of interest among medical professionals to see addicts get clean.

Mr Johnston, 41, and Ms Kealy, 44, were in their early- to mid-20s when they first dabbled with heroin being sold in Tamworth.

“I started using when I was about 21 in Tamworth. I was with the wrong crowd, but I took to it like a duck to water,” Mr Johnston said.

Before long, gripped by addiction, they turned to crime to fund their combined $500-a-day habit, with Mr Johnston serving three stints in jail for fraud.

Realising the destructive habit could lead only to a life of misery and, most likely, an early death, the duo resolved to kick the drug and were placed on the methadone program.

Methadone has been used in Australia to manage narcotic hunger since the 1970s. A synthetic opiate, it is addictive – some say even more so than heroin.

However, when prescribed by a doctor and dispensed in controlled doses through a pharmacy, it provides users with regular, affordable and relatively safe fixes.

Both Mr Johnston and Ms Kealy credit methadone with saving their lives, keeping them off heroin and allowing them to raise happy and healthy children.

But they say their extensive experience with the program – and their attempts to break free from it over the past couple of weeks – has exposed some serious shortcomings.

Last weekend, despairing at the severity of their withdrawal symptoms, they contacted the local drug and alcohol service to seek some sort of pain relief and were advised to go back onto methadone.

“It was just disgusting,” Ms Kealy said. “They don’t want to know you. Manilla hospital was the only place that gave us any encouragement and told us ‘Good on you; keep going’.”

The duo, free from methadone for 17 days, contacted The Leader in the hope their story would result in more support for addicts to become drug-free.

In a statement, Hunter New England Health drug and alcohol services director Adrian Dunlop said: “All decisions about treatment, including the duration and withdrawal from medication, are made by the patient and their treating team. The duration of a treatment program is a decision between a doctor and individual patient – it varies from patient to patient.”

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