Narcotics Anonymous

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Narcotics Anonymous bases its 'treatment' on Hugs Not Drugs

They meet every Monday night at the Credit Valley Hospital but in this place of healing, the only medicine they need is each other.

They are the Mississauga "fellowship" of Narcotics Anonymous. Formed in July, 1986, the group of four or five regulars has mushroomed to a weekly attendance of more than 30.

"This group has grown by leaps and bounds. We've been averaging three newcomers a week in the past two months," group member Mike says. "Newcomers are the most important to us, because we can only keep what we have by giving it away."

Narcotics Anonymous was formed in 1953 but it wasn't until well into the 1970s and even later in Canada that it began to gain eminence. In the Metro area, members can attend a meeting every night of the week and many members attend several a week.

Hugs not drugs

As the Mississauga group forms for their meeting, one of the group's slogans, Hugs Not Drugs, is demonstrated openly and without self-consciousness.

"I can't believe the loving in this room," Rick says.

Part of the cause of its burgeoning success, Bob says, is the unfortunate lack of alternate treatment.

"Drug rehabilitation in general is a lot slower in Canada. Treatment centres in Ontario are overbooked with a two- to three- month waiting list. Ontario treatment centres don't like teenagers under 18 and under 16 is out of the question," he says.

Many group members have gone to the U.S., particularly Buffalo, because facilities in Canada were not available.

At tonight's meeting, Paul gets a key tag denoting 90 days of "clean time" to thunderous applause. All around the table, faces, young and old, are shining with joy and renewed health.

Not long ago, many of those attending were on the verge of death. Here are some of their stories:

"I started using at a very early age," group co-founder John says. "I believe I had addictive tendencies before I even started."

Peer pressure

"I can remember saying I would never touch drugs. But peer pressure got me into drugs because I felt I was being accepted into a group. It was a short time before I was a daily user.

"I got into cocaine and that was my final downfall. I just couldn't stop shooting coke; it was the ultimate drug for me.

"I know this program saved my life."

Sandra's story is somewhat different.

"I come from a very nice family, very well-off. But I always had feelings of inadequacy. I played a lot of roles to please people and I wanted to grow up very fast. I had a lot of fear because of my lack of self-esteem.

"I was born an addict. I was on tranquillizers when I was 3 because I was so hyper.

"I was the last person in my group to start doing drugs. I thought it was just awful," she says.

After the first joint came "downers" like Valium, Seconal and Percodan but Sandra says, "my drug of choice was heroin."

'I am the problem'

"It's not the drugs that are the problem; I am the problem. Drugs were an escape," Sandra says.

Sandra became a smuggler and a street prostitute to support her habit, moving from Toronto to New York, eventually to Florida, where she entered her first treatment centre.

"I was a danger junkie. I loved living on the edge and it was harder for me to kick the lifestyle than the drugs," Sandra says.

On one occasion following an overdose, Sandra says, she was pronounced dead in hospital.

"For me, it was total denial. I'd come to Narcotics Anonymous meetings and I'd lie. I would still be high but I still kept coming back. I knew there was something here I wanted."

Art had his first drink at age 7 and by age 12, "I was being brought home by the police for stealing to support my habit.

"At first, my parents didn't really have a clue. They weren't sure what was going on because there wasn't much public information at the time."

Hit the road

Art hit the road at 14, heading to Montreal, out west and back again, never welcome anywhere.

"I figured I could use drugs for the rest of my life, that this was the way most normal people lived," says Art, who progressed from alcohol and hashish to LSD, speed, angel dust (PCP), cocaine and heroin.

"I got involved with guns and dealing. I used a lot of drugs, which tends to get you paranoid. I used to sit up at night in a rocking chair with a shotgun, staring at the door. I didn't trust anybody and I didn't have any real friends," Art says.

After blacking out and attempting to strangle his wife, Art went into an employee alcohol treatment program and attended Alcoholics Anonymous, "but I didn't fit. I was an outsider because of my drug problem."

His family doctor prescribed Valium, Art says. "It's almost like doctors push that stuff on you. I could really con doctors."

Art recently acquired his one-year "clean time" medallion and his marriage has survived the trauma.

"When I came to the group, I found a place I belonged. We all shared a common bond," Art says.

And although Narcotics Anonymous, like its forerunner, Alcholics Anonymous, prefers to shun the public limelight, John says, "the most important thing is getting the word out to the suffering addicts. There's help here if you want it."

`All you need is the desire to stop,' speaker tells Narcotics Anonymous meet

The man with the name tag that said "Yvan" described how he graduated from an exclusive private college to a $1,000-a-week cocaine habit that nearly destroyed his life.

The 34-year-old man spoke at the third annual Quebec regional convention of Narcotics Anonymous, which ends today at a downtown hotel.

More than 1,200 people are expected to attend. They range in age from late teens to early 60s and come mostly from across the province, but also from elsewhere in Canada, the United States and France.

They include students and construction workers, lawyers and businessmen, police officers and office managers.

Some came to the convention because they stuck needles into their veins, others because they glutted themselves with prescription pills.

"Drugs don't discriminate," Yvan said in an interview. "Anyone can get hooked."

Even a promising student sent by his parents to private school to ensure a bright future.

As a teenager, Yvan played football and hockey, taught tennis and worked as a lifeguard. He was the only kid in school with the keys to the gymnasium.

But the rules were strict and the fun was in breaking them. It began with a couple of joints on the weekend, something to talk about and impress the girls.

His dream was to be a journalist. In his early 20s, he travelled to Central America to report on the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. He worked as a freelancer and got his byline in the papers back home.

But the weekends were still for fun, and acid was more fun than pot.

He returned to Montreal and found a full-time job in a bar where the pay was steady and the tips good. Now he could afford cocaine, a little heroin.

"The first thing I did in the mornings was roll a joint. I'd have it before my first cup of coffee."

The job was supposed to be for only a few months, until he was ready to tackle another reporting assignment. But the day he woke up and realized something had gone terribly wrong, almost five years had passed. He had been dealing drugs and making lots of money and spending even more - about $1,000 a week - when some friends finally grabbed him by the collar and threw him in a drug- rehabilitation centre.

Yvan joined Narcotics Anonymous on Feb. 13, 1987. "I've been clean ever since," he said.

No drugs, no alcohol. His only remaining bad habits are cigarettes and coffee.

The organization was founded in the mid-1950s in California. A Quebec chapter opened in 1983.

"It gave me my life back," Yvan said.

"Drugs made me lose sight of my goals. NA has given me new ones."

Yvan now runs a successful cabinet-making shop. He built some of the sets at the Cites-Cines exhibit at the Palais de la Civilisation.

More than 10,000 Quebecers are members of NA, he said. Most are aged from 25 to 35. Each week there are more than 165 meetings in the province.

"All you need," Yvan said, "is a desire to stop using drugs."

Ex-addict comes clean after hitting bottom

Dear Ann Landers: I started using drugs when I was 11 and spent the next 17 years in the kind of hell only another addict can understand.

Drugs to me were like oxygen. I was convinced that I couldn't live without them.

I destroyed everyone and everything around me because of my need to have them.

My life was a horror movie that had no plot and no end. I was so miserable and lonely, I felt like the last person on Earth.

Many times, I was sure that the only way to escape the agony was to kill myself. I tried, but I even failed at that.

Seven months ago, I bottomed out and decided to give Alcoholics Anonymous a shot. For some reason, I couldn't relate to the people there.

An extraordinary man from Narcotics Anonymous happened to be the speaker at that meeting.

I had never heard of Narcotics Anonymous before, but what that man said struck a chord that resonated and gave me my first ray of hope.

I started to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings that very weekend.

And guess what?

I haven't touched drugs since. -- Clean and Sober in Vancouver, B.C.

Dear B.C.: You have written a letter that will surely give renewed hope to addicts who, like you, have deemed themselves hopeless.

I thank you on behalf of all those whose lives you saved today.

The Edmonton phone number for Narcotics Anonymous is 421-4429.

Dear Ann Landers: My husband, ``Stanley,'' has an MBA degree.

In his line of work, he must talk with people of all ages and from all walks of life.

In spite of his fine educational background, Stanley mispronounces common words and murders the English language. My face turns red when family and friends snicker, but it doesn't seem to bother him in the least. You'd think he would be embarrassed, but this is not the case.

Last night, Stanley mispronounced a medical term in the presence of some doctors. When I called it to his attention later and pronounced it correctly, he became extremely annoyed and said, ``They knew what I meant. What difference does it make?'' The next morning, he told me he had not slept at all well because he was so upset about the way I continually correct him.

Stanley is a very sweet man and has been wonderful about explaining things to me that I don't understand. I have never resented it. He is really a wonderful human being and does so much for so many people. I am very proud of him.

But, Ann, it hurts me that this one flaw makes him a laughingstock. We cannot seem to resolve this issue. Can you help us?

-- Troubled Waters in Memphis

Dear Waters: The solution is very simple, but it's going to take a lot of self-control on your part.

STOP CORRECTING STANLEY. No matter how badly he butchers the language, remain silent. Accept the fact that his English is never going to improve and that his fine qualities compensate in the long run. You will look nobler in the eyes of his friends, and he will appreciate your silence.

Gem of the Day: A husband is a man who wishes he had as much fun when he goes out of town on business as his wife thinks he does.

Heroin addict tells how he came back from 'dead' Life changed after he went to Narcotics Anonymous

For Jim B. the end came March 30, 1988, as he stood on a Toronto streetcorner with a hypodermic needle, hoping police would bust him before he killed himself.

"Wouldn't you know, you can never find a cop when you need one," he laughed during an interview at the start of a weekend Narcotics Anonymous conference.

Jim, 34, can laugh now.

But he had been at rock bottom for the previous six months since his wife threw him out, forcing him to spend Christmas at a hostel for men.

"I carried everything I owned in a hockey bag, stayed in shooting galleries and slept in subway cars and buses," he said. "I ended up down at Seaton House."

Ten years earlier, he'd been making up to $2,000 a week from his home improvement business. He had a car, a truck and a motorcycle. He thought he had it made - despite his addiction.

"I was riding high," he recalled. "I thought I was a shooter. I thought I had arrived."

The sporadic nature of his business provided freedom to indulge his heroin habit. He did just that until the business failed two years later.

"I started shortchanging salesmen, screwing up work. I lost any pretence of owning a business and just packed it in."

He spent the next several years feeding his addiction, dealing drugs to get drugs, and "stealing, cheating and lying. I was unstable, irrational, neurotic, stealing everything in sight."

In 1987, he sought help from Renascent Foundation, but was told they only treated alcoholics. He applied for an Addiction Research Foundation methadone program but was told there was a three-month waiting list.

It was in October, 1987, that his wife kicked him out, "a blessing in disguise," and he began living on the street.

After that Christmas in the hostel, physically ill, his weight down to 120 pounds from 200, he checked into a Buffalo treatment centre and was thrown out after three days.

He said professional help was out of the question because he trusted no one, had never learned to accept help and had what he termed a bad attitude.

"I couldn't understand what they were talking about and they couldn't understand what I was talking about," he said.

He returned to Toronto by bus and was high 45 minutes later. But he was determined to get off drugs.

Just a day after comtemplating suicide on that Toronto street corner, he went to a meeting of Narcotics Anonymous and has been off drugs ever since.

He'd been going to Narcotics Anonymous - founded in California in 1953 and patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous - for three months, in fact, but only sporadically.

And at one of the meetings he'd bumped into a friend who was best man at his wedding.

The friend, who he hadn't seen for months, "had dropped out of sight. He didn't want to tell me he was going to get clean."

Narcotics Anonymous, set up in Toronto 7 1/2 years ago, is working for Jim B., as it is for more than 600 addicts attending its third annual Ontario regional conference at University of Toronto's New College.

"For the first time in my life, I actually understood other people," he said. "I had never really made contact with other people until that point, including my wife."

While he had the benefit of being with people who had been through as bad - if not worse - times, he also found the will to get off drugs before they got him, he said.

"I basically didn't give a s--- about the withdrawal part," he said. "I wanted to get clean that bad."

Last June, he reunited with his wife, daughter, 9, and son, 4, and shortly afterwards landed a job with an equipment service company.

He said he can stay off drugs if he continues as he has, but he'll never shake the addiction that has been with him since he was a teenager.

He was well into alcohol and drugs at 14, two years after a car accident killed his father, an alcoholic, and threw Jim B. through the windshield and left him in a body cast for six months.

He kept a bottle of LCBO-brand scotch in his school locker, smoked pot and took hallucinogenic drugs, got in trouble with the law and was sent to a group home for 18 months before returning home and almost finishing grade 12.

After that, he had a number of low paying jobs, while continuing to abuse drugs and stay in trouble, acquiring 150 stitches in his head, half from the accident and half from "scraps, barroom brawls and pool cues."

"By the time I got to 21, when I got married, I realized alcohol was a problem. I basically went insane on it. I made a conscious decision to become a heroin addict.

"All I did was change the staple drug. I was also eating codeine, doing speed and cocaine. My life has been an active description of the saying, 'One is too many and 1,000 is not enough'."

Pot smoker needs to get help now

DEAR ANN: The letter from the young woman engaged to "a wonderful guy" who smokes a joint or two a day should be a warning to all people involved with a substance abuser.

I pray that the good job her fiance has doesn't involve heavy machinery or industrial chemicals. He could be endangering his life and the lives of his co-workers. And unless he grows, harvests and processes the pot he smokes, he is inhaling, in addition to marijuana, all of the unknown materials used to cut and hype the product by those who sell it.

If he is 28 and has been a user for many years, chances are that the marijuana may have affected his brain, his sperm count and his genetic makeup. If the young woman wants to have children, she must prepare herself for the possibility of birth defects and mental retardation.

He claims he is getting "pleasure and relaxation." She will have neither if she marries a man who will not acknowledge that he has a problem.

Her first step should be a call to Narcotics Anonymous at once. I wish her well. - GONE THROUGH IT TWICE IN AKRON

DEAR AKRON: I'm glad you recommended Narcotics Anonymous. This is an excellent self-help organization based on AA's 12-step recovery program. It offers support and guidance not only to addicts, but to their family and friends.

Cocaine addicts

Neither article on Cocaine Anonymous said it was the only such group operating in this area. In fact, both articles included references to Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous and the first article included telephone numbers for these groups.

Marjorie Gillies's article, "Cocaine Anonymous comes to Ottawa" (March 27), greatly understates the extent of self-help groups and treatment programs for cocaine addicts in the region.

Narcotics Anonymous was instituted in Ottawa several years ago by a recovering addict with Royal Ottawa Hospital's support. Narcotics Anonymous addresses itself to all addictions, including cocaine. The addicts regard Narcotics Anonymous as more appropriate than Cocaine Anonymous because cocaine users need to learn first that an addiction is an addiction regardless of the substance of abuse.

Other treatment programs in the area deal with alcoholism and drug addiction. For example, the Royal Ottawa Hospital operates a 22-patient treatment facility for alcoholics and drug addicts in West Carleton Township. In addition, 12 beds are used for alcoholics and substance abusers at the Carling Avenue site. The hospital is working with community groups, treatment providers, the District Health Council, the Council on Addiction Programs, and the Ontario Ministry of Health to establish the region's first hospital-based addiction centre.

Although the resources of all organizations in the addiction field are extended, anyone in the region who wants help for an addiction can obtain it.

Police infiltration angers recovery groups ; Spying officers scare people away, they fear

News that police infiltrated Narcotics Anonymous meetings has left recovering addicts angry and afraid, counsellors say.

"Revelations of this kind of police behaviour will scare people out of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and related organizations, and will more than likely result in some of them losing their battles with addiction," Peter Armstrong said yesterday after The Star reported that a Toronto undercover police officer infiltrated a Narcotics Anonymous group in Peterborough. Armstrong is president of Renascent, a Toronto-based alcoholic and drug recovery organization.

"Are they also wire-tapping confessionals, and doctor's offices?" Armstrong wondered.

He called the police intrusion into Narcotics Anonymous meetings "a horrific invasion" of the recovery process, and called for an absolute ban on such tactics.

"Millions of people throughout the world depend on the anonymity and trust in those meetings to get better," Armstrong added. "And when they get better they save society billions of dollars, because there's a lot less damage committed to themselves and others."

The Star reported that Toronto police undercover officer Maja Schlegel attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings on and off over five months, specifically to investigate the role of a member in the unsolved slaying of 21-month-old Jenna Mellor.

Schlegel befriended Mellor's mother, Brenda Waudby, at the meetings, disguising the fact she was an undercover officer.

Waudby eventually was charged with second-degree murder, but the charge was tossed out by the crown attorney before it reached trial.

Schlegel was honoured as Toronto officer of the year for the operation.

Requests for interviews with police Chief Julian Fantino and Schlegel were referred to Staff Inspector Bruce Smollet, who said Toronto police have no written policy against undercover operations in counselling groups.

Peterborough Police Chief Terry McLaren, whose force headed the investigation, said Peterborough police also have no written policy on using undercover officers in self-help therapy groups such as Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous.

"We don't have anything," McLaren said. "It's a judgment call."

McLaren said Waudby, and not the counselling group as a whole, was the target of the investigation.

"The undercover operator wasn't there to glean information on anybody," McLaren said. "The intent of the undercover operation was not to infiltrate Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous."

However, Waudby's NA sponsor said at least three recovering addicts quit the group after learning that an undercover official posing as a heroin addict was in their midst.

The murder remains unsolved.

Meanwhile, Armstrong's views that police should not infiltrate addiction recovery groups were echoed strongly by Paul S., of Mississauga, a participant in Alcoholics Anonymous for 13 years.

"I would probably be dead now if it wasn't for these people and the fact that I could tell things," Paul S. said.

"I'm very shook this morning," he said. "This is just going to shake anybody in the whole of AA. And that includes all the cops who belong who would lose their jobs."

A nine-year Narcotics Anonymous member in Toronto said information gathered through undercover operations in counselling sessions should not be admissible in court.

"The damage that this does is unbelievable," he said. "I don't think they (police) realize that it (infiltrating meetings) can cost people their lives."

To protect people in therapy groups, the law should be changed to require police to get a warrant, Alan Borovoy, legal counsel to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said yesterday.

An evaluation by a neutral judge would balance the competing interests of law enforcement and privacy, he said.

"You cannot expect people to spill their guts unless they have reasonable assurance that their privacy will be respected."

McLaren said yesterday he was optimistic Peterborough police would be able to crack the five-year-old murder case.

He declined to comment on the results of forensic testing recently completed on a curly strand of hair or fibre found on the toddler's body.

The strand went untested by investigators for five years before being taken from the office of Toronto pathologist Dr. Charles Smith by police last December.

"I've been optimistic since the beginning, when we started the re- investigation and review," McLaren said.

The lead investigator in the case has "plotted out courses and interviews," McLaren said.

Asked if the forensic testing has pointed toward new suspects, McLaren said, "I wouldn't comment on that."

There was a high-level meeting in Peterborough on the case Thursday, where forensic testing of the strand was discussed.

The meeting included McLaren; Brian Gilkinson, the crown attorney who originally charged Waudby; Dr. James Cairns, deputy chief coroner for Ontario, and top officials from the Centre of Forensic Sciences in Toronto, where the strand was analyzed.