Island police chiefs condemn methadone dispensing regimen

by Alicia McCutcheon

MANITOULIN—Manitoulin police chiefs are speaking out on some of the practices of the methadone program, specifically the ‘carry home’—the ability to take home several days worth of methadone (the synthetic opioid used to help the treatment of those with an opioid dependence and mitigate withdrawal symptoms) in a locked box—in light of two eerily similar Island deaths and subsequent manslaughter and methadone trafficking charges.

On December 8, the Wikwemikong Tribal Police issued a release stating that 21-year-old Trisha Pheasant of Wikwemikong had been charged with one count of trafficking methadone and one count of manslaughter in the August 2010 death of 29-year-old Leslie Trudeau.

This charge comes on the heels of the July 3, 2011 death of another young woman, this time in M’Chigeeng. Twenty-two-year-old Trista Panamick was pronounced dead at the Mindemoya site of the Manitoulin Health Centre of a methadone overdose. After investigation by the United Chiefs and Councils of Manitoulin (UCCM) Anishnaabe Police Service, 24-year-old Luke Anwhatin, also of M’Chigeeng, was charged with one count of trafficking methadone and one count of manslaughter with the arrest taking place last month.

The Expositor has obtained a court transcript of the proceedings of Mr. Anwhatin’s bail hearing. In it, the presiding judge was told that, “Officers then attended the residence of Trista Panamick to photograph the scene, as well as seize any items as listed in the warrant. Officers there seized miscellaneous drug paraphernalia from within the residence, which included an empty bottle of methadone. The empty bottle of methadone had the name of Luke Anwhatin affixed to the bottle. An ingestion date of July the 1st, 2011 was printed on it.”

On July 7, the report continued, Mr. Anwhatin was interviewed by a UCCM officer on an unrelated matter. “During the interview, the accused (Mr. Anwhatin) told the detective that he had drank his methadone at his residence and placed the bottle back in his lock box, as was mandated in his agreement for his carry home for methadone.”

“On August 10, a production order was provided to the police and the police then, through the production order, gained access to the signed methadone agreement signed by Mr. Anwhatin and the notice sent to him by the pharmacist at the methadone clinic advising that the accused did not return his carry home bottle,” the court report continues. “The pharmacist…also provided the client log sheet for Mr. Anwhatin and notices that he had failed to return in his empty bottle as required,” the report notes.

In the contract regarding ‘carries’ that patients of the methadone clinic are required to sign, the following is included: “Methadone is a potent medication. A single dose taken by a person not used to taking uploads can be fatal, especially if taken by a child. For this reason I agree to store take-home doses in a locked box in a location where it is unlikely to be stolen or accidentally taken by another person…I agree to not give, lend or sell my take-home doses to anyone. I understand that selling methadone is a criminal offence.”

Both Wikwemikong Tribal Police Chief Gary Reid and UCCM Anishnaabe Police Chief Rodney Nahwegahbow told The Expositor Monday in separate interviews that the methadone program needs to have a serious look at the carry-home procedure.

“Methadone is a poison for people,” Police Chief Reid said adamantly. “We caution people that if you’re not on it, under the care and treatment of a physician, it’s dangerous. It’s a drug, right?”

“People just don’t pay attention,” the police chief continued, frustration mounting in his voice. “If you’ve got medication prescribed to you, it’s yours alone, otherwise you’ll face repercussions. It’s unfortunate that people abuse these things—people are extended a privilege. They trust these people to take this medication home and unfortunately, some people abuse this.”

“It (the death of Ms. Trudeau) didn’t need to happen,” Police Chief Reid added. “I just wonder at the whole process of it (methadone clinic). The whole take-home system needs to be looked at and totally revamped. Does it take this type of an incident to bring it to attention? I don’t know.”

“It’s like everything else in life,” he said of the program. “It works well for a while then it needs to be readjusted and tightened up.”

UCCM Police Chief Nahwegahbow issued a formal statement to this newspaper on the same subject, saying he “objects to the use of methadone as a carry-home prescription drug on the UCCM First Nations. “I feel that methadone may have a place in helping drug dependant people recover from their addictions, but its benefits also pose certain risks for our communities when it’s allowed to be dispensed as a carry-home product.”

“As a police service, it is our responsibility to help ensure the safety of our communities and we want to work with our local First Nations and health service providers to reduce the risks associated with this drug,” Police Chief Nahwegahbow continues. “One of our goals is to reduce or stop the use of methadone as a carry-home prescription and educate the public about its harmful effects. There are ways to continue to help those recovering from drug related dependencies without the risks associated with the use of carry-home bottles of methadone.”

Ontario Provincial Police Manitoulin detachment commander Staff Sergeant Kevin Webb agrees with the police chiefs, saying “the difficulty is that these are people who are sick and need the help. But you have to weigh that level of trust with the safety of the public.”

Staff Sergeant Webb suggested that methadone be dispensed from the patient’s home pharmacy or health centre “so that the dosage is taken right there. It’s a complex issue and we should be revisiting how things go as time goes on.”