stats Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels


  This site         Tips

  The Web Google


  Where to Find It

Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business



Subscribe to The Globe

Shop at our Globe Store

Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business




  Arts & Entertainment



   Headline Index

 Other Sections

  Births & Deaths






  Facts & Arguments




  Real Estate









  Food & Dining




  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...


   Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site



  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us



 Web Site

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Globe Store New

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


Opioid Chapters: stories behind the statistics
The numbers can be difficult to fathom, but a new multimedia project puts faces to Canada's crisis

Email this article Print this article
Monday, September 10, 2018 – Page A13

The statistics provide a grim portrait of the opioid crisis in Canada.

Nearly 4,000 apparent opioidrelated deaths occurred in 2017, according to government data. In the same year, an average of 17 Canadians were hospitalized each day because of opioid poisoning.

Meanwhile, in Ontario alone, nearly 1.6 million people - about one in nine - receive a prescription opioid to treat pain every year, Ontario Drug Policy Research Network (ODPRN) data show.

But the numbers only tell part of the story. A new multimedia project, titled the Opioid Chapters, delves beyond the data to share the personal experiences of those affected by the crisis. The project, created by ODPRN and the independent website Healthy Debate, launched on Sept. 6, as experts from across Canada gathered in Toronto for the final day of a two-day Opioid Symposium attended by Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor and Canada's chief public-health officer, Dr.

Theresa Tam. It uses video, audio, photographs and text to tell the stories of 11 individuals, including those relying on prescription opioids to manage pain, those struggling with opioid addiction and health-care workers grappling with the crisis.

"They could be your next-door neighbour. They could be your family or friends," said Tara Gomes, an epidemiologist and principal investigator at ODPRN, who conceived the project. "By putting all these different experiences together in this project, we thought it would provide everybody with an opportunity to really understand and experience all those different pathways that people have had in using opioids and maybe help people have a broader appreciation of how complex this issue is."

A solution to the opioid crisis will require improving the health of individuals with chronic pain, while also not putting people at risk of developing addictions or creating an environment that could be dangerous for those who have an opioid-use disorder, she says. Among the individuals profiled on the project, published on the site, is a woman from a small town in Ontario, who was initially offered a neighbour's prescription Percocets and went on to buy pills from others who were prescribed them. There is a man who lost his wife after she took a lethal dose of prescription fentanyl, and a man who found that only opioids provided pain relief from his back injury.

The project also features a community outreach and addictions counsellor who sees the many shortcomings of the healthcare system, a family doctor who is trying to help patients taper off opioids and a director of a pain clinic who has seen the pendulum shift from physicians prescribing too many opioids to them now refusing to give even small doses to patients who could benefit from more.

Gomes says she approached Healthy Debate to collaborate on the project after she and her research group conducted numerous interviews last year while gathering information to develop a research program related to opioids. In the course of their interviews with Ontarians who had experience using opioids for nonmedical purposes, as well as for treating chronic pain, Gomes says she realized there was a demand for a platform where individuals could share their stories.

Dr. Seema Marwaha, a physician and journalist on the editorial board of Healthy Debate, says the Opioid Chapters project provided a chance for the health website to experiment with a new multimedia format that builds on its familiar Faces of Health Care photojournalism series, which documents people's personal health-care experiences in text and photographs.

"It's not enough sometimes to read about what someone has gone through because you put your own spin and bias on that," said Marwaha, who developed multimedia for the project. "But when you're able to properly visually represent someone's experience and hear their own words, I think it's different and I think there's more depth there."

The following are excerpts of participants' stories from the Opioid Chapters.

Michael Strange injured his back while working as a cameraman.

He has found solely opioids provide some pain relief.

I've tried so many different things for my pain. People say, "Have you tried acupuncture?" Yeah. I've had two different kinds of laser therapy. I had doctors and friends say I had to try marijuana. I got the vaporizer and it did nothing for my pain. The only thing I never tried is hypnosis.

My doctor sent me to a pain specialist. He said, "I am going to remain your GP, but for this particular aspect of your health care, I want you to go see this doctor."

He is a terrific doctor. I love the guy. And I understand why he wanted to give me up to somebody who could write prescriptions freer than what he could.

About four years ago, doctors started to be under a lot of pressure from the government about opioids. I think doctors in Canada right now are running scared.

I am now seeing a terrific pain specialist and she has done marvelous things with me. She runs you through a battery of tests - the clinic has a psychologist, physiotherapists and mindfulness classes. I feel so much better.

But it's primarily to do with the opioids. I have tried virtually everything there is out there, and opioids work for me.

She has been instrumental in putting me back together again.

Every two months, at a minimum, I see her for a drug renewal. She gives me a 30-day prescription and one repeat. She will ask me, "Michael, how are you? Are you OK with the drugs? Do you need more? Do you need less?" I find that is so different from the GP, where he is saying to himself, "I think I've got to pull my overall prescription writing back."

Dr. Rupa Patel is a family doctor helping patients taper off opioids.

I took over a high-opioid-prescriber practice about seven years ago, after the prescriber suddenly left. Some of the patients were on very high doses - the highest was 1,200 mg of morphine a day - and I knew I couldn't continue those prescriptions. Luckily, I had some experience working up North, where there was [someone who prescribed high doses of opioids], and I had already done a lot of opioid tapering and de-prescribing. So my clinic began that process. We tapered probably 40 to 50 patients. We established a "no oxycodone" policy in our clinic, because that drug was known to be sold and used on the street. This was welcomed by many in our community, as my clinic was located in a vulnerable neighbourhood. Through routine urine testing, we found people who were diverting their prescriptions - their urine tests were repeatedly negative for opioids.

We did slow opioid tapering, and I tried to figure out how people got on those meds. I would hear about really difficult, horrible childhoods or years of spousal abuse. Years of violence. Middleaged women would talk about their pain, which was fibromyalgia, which they had never heard of. I was able to label that for them and talk about it.

Tapering was not easy because when someone is dependent on opioids, their brain is demanding it. They would yell, scream, threaten all kinds of stuff. The important thing was to get those people down to a reasonable dose of the drug or actually get them off of it. And most of them have stuck with me. I am still their family doctor and I have learned a lot from them.

Associated Graphic

Michael Strange, who is featured in the multimedia project Opioid Chapters, sustained a back injury while working as a cameraman, and has found opioids to be the only treatment that provides relief.


Huh? How did I get here?
Return to Main Allan_Maki Page
Subscribe to
The Globe and Mail

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement

Need CPR for your RSP? Check your portfolio’s pulse and lower yours by improving the overall health of your investments. Click here.


7-Day Site Search

Breaking News

Today's Weather


Rick Salutin
Merrily marching
off to war
Roy MacGregor
Duct tape might hold
when panic strikes

Where Manley is going with his first budget



For a columnist's most recent stories, click on their name below.


Roy MacGregor arrow
This Country
Jeffrey Simpson arrow
The Nation
Margaret Wente arrow
Hugh Winsor  arrow
The Power Game

Rob Carrick arrow
Personal Finance
Drew Fagan arrow
The Big Picture
Mathew Ingram arrow
Brent Jang arrow
Business West
Brian Milner arrow
Taking Stock
Eric Reguly arrow
To The Point
Andrew Willis arrow

Stephen Brunt arrow
The Game
Eric Duhatschek arrow
Allan Maki arrow
William Houston arrow
Truth & Rumours
Lorne Rubenstein arrow
 The Arts

John Doyle arrow
John MacLachlan Gray arrow
Gray's Anatomy
David Macfarlane arrow
Cheap Seats
Johanna Schneller arrow

Murray Campbell arrow
Ontario Politics
Lysiane Gagnon arrow
Inside Quebec
Marcus Gee arrow
The World
William Johnson arrow
Pit Bill
Paul Knox arrow
Heather Mallick arrow
As If
Leah McLaren arrow
Generation Why
Rex Murphy arrow
Japes of Wrath
Rick Salutin arrow
On The Other Hand
Paul Sullivan arrow
The West
William Thorsell arrow

Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page