A WA mother who managed to kick a long-term methamphetamine addiction after the death of her partner says an addiction service opening in WA’s South West is long overdue.
Renee Pitt was an alcoholic living on the streets of Perth at the age of 13.
By 21 she had swapped the bottle for methamphetamine and what was the beginning of an 18-year addiction.
She spent her days in a haze, hanging around Midland shops, in Perth’s east.
It was during this time in her mid-20s that Ms Pitt met her soul mate Jeremy; a local Noongar with a big heart who shared the same fixation with methamphetamine.
In one way it makes you feel fantastic but then on the other end of the scale, I paid the ultimate price – my partner.
Between them, they had 11 children. Their youngest child is now aged three.
The pair lived a functional life, in a home in Butler, in Perth’s northern suburbs.
Their children went to school, played on scooters and enjoyed family outings to the local park.
Ms Pitt said her children were oblivious to that fact that she daily injected methamphetamine into her veins just to function.
“In one way it makes you feel fantastic but then on the other end of the scale, I paid the ultimate price: my partner.
“My partner passed away, me and my kids, we lost Dad.”
Jeremy died in April last year after suffering a heart attack, caused by prolonged use of methamphetamine.
He was aged 40.
“We both had a massive habit, we needed help,” she said.
Cutting off contacts key to breaking habit
Suddenly, Ms Pitt was a solo parent and realized she had to turn her life around to make sure she would be around for her children for a long time to come.
She incrementally reduced the amount of methamphetamine she was taking, moved the family south to Bunbury, cut contact from most people she knew and focused on creating a new support system, with the help of her sister who lived nearby.
“For me to have any positivity in my life off the drugs I had to remove myself totally from Perth,” she said.
“You need to get away from it all; you need to remove yourself from everyone you know and everything you know to start fresh.”
Ms Pitt visited a local doctor for help but said instead of guidance she was made fearful of losing her children.
“That doctor, he made me feel that bad, before I’d even finished explaining what I was there for he was on the DCP [Department for Child Protection] website, right in front of me,” she said.
“He was just so cold.”
Ms Pitt said the experience was traumatic and she left the practice in tears.
Desperate to get clean, she booked into a health retreat in Queensland so she could suffer the painful withdrawals out of sight of her children.
“I’ve not looked back and I haven’t even wanted to look back, I want to look forward,” she said.
Ms Pitt has now been clean for five months.
Fresh Start service expands to South West
She is studying social work at TAFE so she can help others and during her research Ms Pitt met Dr George O’Neill, an addiction medicine specialist who founded the Fresh Start Recovery Program.
The service provides a holistic approach to getting clean, involving medication to help with the detoxification process, a residential rehabilitation facility and coaching how to start a new drug-free life.
Dr O’Neill prescribes a medication called Naltrexone, which is implanted into the patient’s body and mutes the effect of the drug.
It is commonly used for heroin and other opioids, but Dr O’Neill also uses it to treat methamphetamine addiction.
After administering the medication, Fresh Start gives addicts a place in its residential rehabilitation facility in Northam and also has several houses it lets families rent at reduced rates.
It is now working to build a facility in the South West city of Busselton which will offer the last step of rehabilitation, in assisting recovered drug addicts to rekindle relationships with their families.
It will have campsites, chalets, beachfront activities and health professionals on site.
“We have found that it’s a driving force for people to recover to get back to their families,” Fresh Start CEO Jeff Claughton said.
Ms Pitt said drugs had driven many addicts to do the wrong thing by their families.
“They’ve either stolen off them, they’ve lied to them, cheated them in some ways, and their families don’t talk to them,” she said.
“For people to recover and long term recovery… they need support and they need their family.”
Mr Claughton said there was a big demand for treatment across the state with services already at full capacity.
“We know overall that about half of the people who would present with that need can’t be met by the current level of services in WA,” he said.
“We believe that people who present for treatment need treatment when they present.
“If we send them away we know that a significant percentage of people don’t return for treatment.
“But we just don’t have enough places.”