The number of deaths and hospitalizations caused by opioids has been rising in Canada, and a growing number of people are struggling to afford the drugs, leaving them vulnerable to overdoses.
The Globe and Mail explores the challenges faced by those living with an opioid addiction.
Read moreThe numbers from the latest government statistics are staggering.
In 2015, there were 10,072 opioid-related deaths, and the total number of hospitalizations was up to 9,876, according to the most recent data from Statistics Canada.
The data also show that more than half of those people were living in the GTA.
For some people, the toll can be particularly difficult.
For people living in poverty, it can be especially hard to afford to take their prescribed medication.
The average monthly cost for a prescription in Ontario for a daily dose of a prescribed opioid is $813.
In Alberta, it’s $1,037, and in British Columbia, it is $1.084.
Those living in more affluent neighbourhoods can spend more, and their prescriptions can cost as much as $10,000 a month.
But the numbers don’t stop there.
Many people who are struggling can’t afford to stay in the city or the suburbs, and those living in rural areas, in rural communities, or in communities with high levels of unemployment can also be in dire straits.
In the city, there are no good options.
But for people living on the streets, the pain is often even worse.
“It’s not the kind of thing that I would want to live through,” said a mother of four in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke.
“There’s a very small percentage of people who would choose that.”
The opioid crisis in Canada is now a crisis of its own.
And for those living it, the impact is real.
It began in the mid-1990s, when the U.S. opioid crisis led to a spike in the use of heroin.
“We saw that we had to go back to the basics, and we had a need for medication,” said Dr. Andrew Rehmann, a psychiatrist in Toronto who has been working with opioid addicts for years.
“The drugs were just not getting people the help they needed.”
Rehmann is now treating more than 100 people at the Toronto Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, where he’s treating people who have been diagnosed with opioid dependence.
Many of the patients are from low-income neighbourhoods and neighbourhoods with high rates of unemployment.
They are mostly white and middle-class people, with no previous criminal record.
They have not been prescribed any other medication, and they are not in treatment.
“The drugs are so expensive,” said Rehman.
“You can only get a handful of pills a day, and you’re not getting enough.”
But while most of the drugs are prescribed for chronic pain, there is a growing shortage of prescription opioids for chronic conditions such as depression and addiction.
The problem of opioids is not limited to the U