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Free STOP Smoking program a winner for Ottawa Valley residents

Residents living in Renfrew County who may be trying to quit smoking can join the STOP program which is a free service for one year and it covers all costs, including NRT smoking cessation kits.

For anyone facing the daunting challenge of trying to quit smoking, the road can be long, at times lonely and costly.

However, a free program offered by Renfrew County, not only assists those who want to finally break the nicotine habit, but it covers all costs associated with a non-smoking program, including providing free NRT (Nicotine Replacement Therapy) kits for all participants.

The STOP-program (Smoking Treatment for Ontario Patients) is a ten-year old community outreach service for any resident over the age of 16 years who wants to break free of an addiction, an addiction that in some cases has been a life-long struggle to end.

Denise Dodge, the Case Manager for the STOP-Program, said it is designed so that it can take an aggressive or passive approach in order to assist those enrolled in the program.

“This has proven to be a very effective approach for our clients who have reached a point where they want to take control of a situation that they have battled throughout their lives,” she said. “In some cases it has been a life-long addiction that they have had for decades and they realize the benefits of our program. It not only improves their quality of life, but it is not a financial burden.”

She explained that when a person has decided they are serious about quitting, she meets with them one-on-one and designs an appropriate and safe schedule that will work for them.

“It is important to talk to our clients and gauge their level of addiction and do a solid background check in terms of any health issues and determining if there are any external factors which may influence their progress,” she said. “We talk about support mechanisms such as family members or friends that can assist in their commitment to stop smoking.”

The STOP-Program is administered through the MacKay Manor in Renfrew, a men’s residential centre for those admitted into the home as they battle their own addictions including alcohol and drugs. The program was originally administered from inside the location as many of the clients were in fact residents who used tobacco as a means to help during their withdrawal from either alcohol or drugs.

It was successful, but at times it was a mild disruption within the home. External clients would have to come inside the Manor and for the men enrolled in the program, some became agitated because it was the same as total strangers coming in and out of your home at different times on different days.

“The Manor’s previous executive director applied to the province for funding to set up and operate the service and as a means to reduce costs, it was run through the residence,” she explained. “The province recognized both the value and success of the program and it now has long term sustainable funding. The staff commissioned local contractors to build an addition on to the home and now it is run from this office although we are still connected to the building.”

Dodge, herself a former smoker, understands there is no room to pass judgment or become frustrated with the clients who struggle to quit the addictive habit and revert to smoking while actively taking part in the program.

“I know all too well just how hard it is to quit because as a longtime smoker who has battled the desire to smoke, I have relapsed and I turned to cigarettes to deal with my anxiety at certain times in my life,” she said. “That is why I meet with them and remind them they are not alone and it is not uncommon to veer away and begin smoking. They may be dealing with depression or anxiety or just going through a rough patch and it sometimes just takes a little encouragement from someone who has been there to help them get back in the routine of not smoking.”

For many of the 131 clients who have enrolled sometime in 2022, the ability to acquire an NRT kit at no cost is a huge incentive to sign up in order to qualify for the non-smoking aids.

“When I meet with a client one of the first things I do is let them know they will receive 26 NRT kits during the year-long process and right away you can see the relief in their eyes knowing they don’t have to worry about having to pay for them," she added. 

As part of the intake process, she determines the level of addiction an individual is fighting and that allows her to prescribe the amount of products that person should absorb into their body. She also determines how their age, height, weight and medical issues will influence their nicotine intake.

“Nicotine replacement therapy is a medically approved way to treat people with tobacco use disorder by taking nicotine by means other than tobacco,” she said. “It is used to help with quitting smoking or stopping chewing tobacco. It increases the chance of quitting tobacco smoking by about 55 percent. In our program we have a success rate that is closer to 85 percent.”

She carefully monitors the clients with weekly visits at the beginning so she can measure the effectiveness of the NRT. The most she has prescribed for a client is 42 ml of nicotine who smoked two and one-half packs of cigarettes a day.

“The goal is to slowly ween them off tobacco but I don’t begin that phase until they have not smoked for a total of two weeks,” she said. “The NRT kit contains nicotine patches, gum, lozenges and inhalers. Because of COVID we stopped using nose sprays. I always remind them there is no shame if they happen to relapse.”

She said women make up a majority of the clientele and they come in all ages and from all backgrounds with about 75 percent coming through the Pembroke office and the remaining 25 percent come through the Renfrew office, which includes Arnprior residents. Her word of advice for anyone seeking help to stop smoking is simple.

“It may seem scary to try and quit and that is why we are here,” she said. “It allows you to take control of your life and you will be amazed at the difference in your overall health how much better you will feel and you will rediscover the taste and smell of food and everyday things. It is also a bonus because not only is the program free, but you will realize just how much money you save by not buying cigarettes.”

The contact number for the STOP-Program is 613-432-7666.

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