CTV In-Depth: A City in Crisis

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After five deaths in one week by suspected drug overdoses, CTV Ottawa will bring you an in-depth look into Ottawa’s growing opioid crisis. Over three days we’ll look at the people struggling with drug addiction, the daily fight for survival and why some say a safe drug supply may be the only way to save lives.

Emily’s story:

Sitting across from Emily you instantly feel her warm smile and kind demeanor draw you in. Her zest for life, through the sparkle in her eye, is apparent especially when she talks about her daughter.

“I was just a normal mom. I did volunteering with the school, I did the baking. I was a stay at home mom. Life was good,” she says, “until I had a car accident.”

The accident left Emily with severe back pain and spasms. At the time, she says, her doctor prescribed her a form of morphine called Dilaudid, a powerful opioid drug.

“You just get this euphoria effect. The pain goes away. You can do your housework. And then it escalates.”

She says at one point the spasms were so bad she was forced to call an ambulance. Emily says she was laying on the floor in pain when her friend, a nurse, who was with her at the time, told her to make the pain go away faster she could inject the drug.

“I said ‘no you can’t they’re pills’ I didn’t know you could melt a pill. And she said ‘don’t worry, I’m a nurse’ and she took my medication and she injected me,” Emily recalls, “that was the start of a spiral I didn’t even see coming.”

20 years later Emily is an opioid addict. Over the years, she has resorted to stealing and selling drugs, pan-handling and prostitution all to make enough money to buy her drugs.

“I never thought I’d be in this, I never thought I’d resort to the matters that I had to.”

Along the way she has lost relationships, now estranged from her daughter and other family members.

“It wasn’t something I ever planned in my life,” she says, “but when you’re sick and when I didn’t have any prescriptions left to buy, I was desperate.”

That desperation Emily knows can be deadly. The opioid crisis has claimed the lives of many of her friends, she too has faced death. All to the hands of toxic opioids on the street, fentanyl strains so deadly and so new, users like Emily have no idea what they are injecting.

“A girl and I, we each shared a 20-dollar purple fentanyl that is a tiny amount, that’s like two small grains of purple, two small little spots,” she recalls, “we both went down at the same time. I had to get naloxoned [sic] four times. I stopped breathing.”

That overdose and near-death, enough for Emily to consider a future without drugs, but still not enough to convince her to make a change.

“My sister went through cancer without opioid use because of me, and I felt so bad and thought here’s my sister trying to save her life and here’s me dabbling with my life.”

“I want to do it sort of for them, yet I still like that feeling of not having the pain.”

Emily then pats the sweat from her brow and says with that warm smile,

“I want to go right now. I want to use.”

She laughs and thanks us for our time as she walks away to inject her opioids.

On Tuesday we’ll take a closer look at what Ottawa Inner City Health and others on the front-line of the opioid crisis are doing to save lives. 

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