Terry Marion was the first patient to walk through the doors at Aids Vancouver Island on the West Shore. At the age of 65, he has been on methadone treatment since 2002 and says life is good. (Shalu Mehta/News Staff)

Special Report: Hidden demographic served by West Shore clinic

AIDS Vancouver Island’s West Shore clinic provides opioid agonist treatment to almost 200 people

Terry Marion got into drugs at a very young age.

He grew up very poor in Alberta, just south of Edmonton, and struggled with addiction his whole life. Over the years, Marion tried several different treatments but started on methadone in 2002. He’s been on it since.

“It’s been a lifesaver,” Marion said. “It’s given me a life back.”

Marion decided to get treatment when he found out he was going to be a grandfather.

“It took a few years but I actually became a nanny for about 10 years when the boys were born,” Marion said. “It’s been very instrumental to me getting off drugs and alcohol.”

A little more than a year ago, he moved to Langford and became one of the first patients at the AIDS Vancouver Island clinic on the West Shore.

Now, he’s a peer support worker with AIDS Vancouver Island and is helping other people turn their lives around.

“It’s nothing like I’ve experienced before,” Marion said. “I just feel very fortunate to be a part of it.”

READ MORE: Opioid overdoses claimed more than 3,200 lives in first nine months of 2018

The West Shore clinic opened its doors in October 2017 after noticing many patients accessing addictions services downtown were coming from the West Shore.

In the last year, the clinic has provided care for more than 170 people struggling with opioid use disorder, and 105 of them were new to opioid agonist therapy.

“We deliver care quite differently than other opioid agonist therapy clinics,” said Dr. Randal Mason, a doctor at the clinic. “It’s really team-based with lots of wraparound services … we follow up on people closely.”

The clinic also provides family medicine for its patients as well as access to social work and support groups.

Mason said the average retention rate across the province for people staying on treatment is about 70 per cent, but the clinic’s rate is around 90 per cent.

“I think it’s because we also offer primary care … we are also pretty low barrier,” Mason said. “If you’re a no-show we don’t charge any fees, sometimes people come in for other resources and we also will call and remind patients of appointments.”

Many of the patients on the West Shore are using opioids in private, Mason said. Some have families and even full-time jobs and are trying to hold several things together.

“We try to lift them up before they hit rock bottom,” Mason said.

About 70 per cent of the clinic’s patients are men and a majority of them are between the ages of 30 and 49. Some are also under the age of 30 and work in the trades.

Hermione Jefferis, the manager of health promotion and community development with AIDS Vancouver Island, said the clinic has even seen patients through pregnancy and have grown attached to their families.

READ MORE: Health Canada tightens marketing requirements for opioid prescriptions

Jefferis and the clinic’s registered nurse, Carolyn Showler, worked downtown and said the demographic on the West Shore is very different. In an area where opioid use disorder is still prevalent — with people using in secret or in private — and the two are trying to let more people know that the clinic exists.

“When you think about Port Renfrew all the way down to here, that’s a lot of people who aren’t getting services,” Jefferis said. “We also have some patients who live up the Malahat.”

The clinic is also working to diminish the stigma around opioid use disorder and seeking care, something Gloria Patterson hopes goes away soon.

Patterson is a mother of two addicts, both of whom have accessed services at the clinic. Patterson also goes to support groups offered by the clinic herself.

She said having services on the West Shore, outside of downtown, is crucial because her sons do not want to go to areas where drugs are more openly used.

“I’ve seen them go through withdrawal and struggle and try to get used to their suboxone prescription,” Patterson said. “In the groups, it’s wonderful to speak your mind and see other people who have gone through what you’ve gone through.”

Patterson said the clinic is helping more people talk about issues surrounding opioid use disorder and is appreciative of it so more people, including her sons, can get help.

“I think our society has to change … most people actually know people that are dealing with this,” Patterson said. “Everyone that goes into AIDS Vancouver Island is treated with respect and dignity…these things help.”

This article is part three of a six-part special report on Greater Victoria’s opioid crisis. Find more at vicnews.com. For resources in Greater Victoria, find Black Press Media’s Overdose Prevention Guide online or pick up a hardcopy at our Victoria office, 818 Broughton St.

shalu.mehta@goldstreamgazette.com


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