Rapid access to addiction treatment

By Donna Danyluk

Ron hated his life.

When he opened his eyes in the morning he had only drug use, pain and misery waiting for him.

“I’ve struggled with addictions for more than 30 years, but the last two years were really bad. I used every penny I had to buy drugs. I would lie, cheat and steal – do anything – to get drugs,” said the 54-year-old Barrie, Ontario, resident.

The addiction started as a way to numb the pain from a back injury he experienced as a plumber. It quickly became a way to block out the world.

Having used Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre’s (RVH) Addictions Services in the past, Ron once again sought help knowing his current path was leading him straight to an early grave.

That’s when he walked through the doors of the Barrie location (70 Wellington Street, West) of the North Simcoe Muskoka Regional Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (RAAM) service – a walk-in clinic designed to provide immediate help for people struggling with addictions.

“I can tell you, if they didn’t see me right away I would have stepped right back into active addiction – back to drinking heavily, using cocaine, crack and opioids. Back to doing anything I could to build a wall between me and the world. I hated the world.”

The RAAM Service is open Monday to Friday (8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) and includes walk-in clinics in Barrie, Orillia and Midland. The service was opened in response to the region’s growing opioid crisis.

“The battle in the opioid crisis is not in RVH’s Emergency department, but out in the community,” says Dr. Chris Martin, an RVH Emergency physician and medical director of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). “People who use drugs are playing a deadly game of Russian Roulette because so many drugs – from cocaine to heroin – are being laced with synthetic fentanyl. Clinics like RAAM are helping people address their addictions, keeping them alive.”

The RAAM Services have been open for just over a year and during that time more than 864 people, just like Ron, have walked through the doors ready to beat their addictions. In 2018 the Barrie, Orillia and Midland RAAM clinics saw a combined total of 3,874 visits for addiction-related concerns.

“When you are in active addiction and you are ready to make that move to quit, having someone to talk to immediately is crucial,” says Ron.

For him, that ‘someone’, was the dedicated addiction counsellors with the Barrie RAAM Program.

“We know that when people walk through our doors it takes a lot of courage.  For many individuals this is their last stop, their last place of hope. We recognize that immediate access is paramount to our clients’ success,” says Brian Irving, manager Addictions Services and North Simcoe Muskoka RAAM Services, RVH. “Our job is to provide a safe supportive environment, one that allows the person to feel respected and heard.”

Today, thanks to RAAM, Ron is a different man. He’s clean, sober and the former plumber is now teaching technical courses to plumbing apprentices – a position he calls ‘his dream job’.

“I’m so blown away about how much my life has changed in just a year,” says Ron. “For the first time when I look in the mirror I love the guy staring back. I tell people when you give up drugs you don’t just get your life back – you get a better life!”

Donna Danyluk is with Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre’s (RVH) Corporate Communications department.