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OPIOID CRISIS, PART 1: 'I have a black-belt in rehab... and the scars to prove it'

'I think I’m addicted to everything. It’s just the rush. It was basically for thrills to start with and then once you get wired on it, or addicted, that’s when the struggle begins'

Editor's note: The following story, which opens BarrieToday's seven-part series into the local opioid crisis, contains strong language and situations which may not be suitable to some readers.

Scott (not his real name) is running about a half-hour late to our interview.

When he arrives, he’s apologetic and proceeds to show the reason for his tardiness: a small canister with his 30-gram daily dose of methadone mixed with juice, or “liquid handcuffs,” that he’s just picked up from the pharmacy.

The 41-year-old Barrie man has been to rehab at least 10 times and has a few overdoses under his belt, eight times from opiates and two more from sleeping pills. 

“I’ve got the black-belt in rehab... and the scars to prove it," he says, displaying several scars from abscesses on his arms, hands, feet and legs, basically anywhere he could find a vein to shoot up.

“I was prescribed fentanyl for six months and look what it did. Scars, scars, scars. I have no veins left," he exclaims. "All over my feet and hands, nothing. This is real and I’m trying my best.”

Gaunt and restless, he hopes his worst days are in the rear-view mirror, particularly due to the toxic supply of fentanyl-laced drugs on the streets in Barrie today. 

“With this epidemic that’s going on, I probably wouldn’t be here right now, because I was insane,” he says. “I used to do it (opiates) all day, every f--king day. Maybe I had a high tolerance.

“Was I scared of dying? Absolutely. But when you’re in the thick of it, you don’t want to be sick."

When addicts go without drugs for a period of time, they refer to it as being “dope sick,” which oftentimes means curled up with severe vomiting and the shakes.

“It starts with a runny nose, you might start sneezing. At least that’s for me how it is. That’s how I know I’m sick. My eyes aren’t pinned anymore and they start getting bigger, like nickels. Then it just gets worse and worse. It gets to the point that you’re shitting yourself or you’ve gotta go to the bathroom all the time. Stomach cramps, really bad. Shaking, vomiting.”

He figures he’s been sick "hundreds of times.”

“If you go to bed and wake up, you’re going to want something right away if you’re strung out,” he says.

Recently, he has been turning to cocaine and booze after being “clean and sober” from 2015 until about October 2017.

“I drank a few times and went out to the bar, and did a couple lines of blow, that was it,” he says, adding he relapsed "hardcore" last January.

"I’m scared I’m going to go down again. One day at a time, that’s the slogan. That’s why I quit going to meetings … because they say I’m of the hopeless variety. But I want to work, I want to make money. I want a job and a life again.”

He describes the last year as “hell" and says his relapse affected a lot of people in his life.

Scott isn't alone in his struggle, but many people don't come out the other side of addiction. 

Over the first six months of 2018, there were 31 confirmed and four probable opioid-related deaths in Simcoe Muskoka, which was similar to the 33 opioid-related deaths in Simcoe Muskoka from January to June 2017, according to data from the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit. 

Scott sat down with BarrieToday at a coffee shop in the city recently to tell his story of addiction in the hope that his tale will lead other people away from a similar path.

“It’s such a drag,” he says. “I’d rather live life.”

Over the course of 90 minutes, he talks about how he was a good athlete as a child, heavily involved in hockey and lacrosse, in a Georgian Bay town before starting to use drugs as a teenager. It eventually led to the loss of his Barrie home and his common-law wife.

The father of two teenagers now lives in a basement apartment and relies on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) for financial support.

Scott lived in Barrie until 2015 when he moved to another town in Simcoe County. He returned to the city in the fall in an effort to recover.

“I started to go out again,” he says, a reference for relapsing and using drugs.

When he's asked about next steps, he’s thinks about today and possibly having to find a new place to live after getting into an argument with his landlord the night prior. Talk of weeks, months and even years down the road just don’t register.

“I could not be here," he says. 

Scott says he does his best to stay away from what's turning people into statistics: another overdose death. 

“I don’t want to die from the opiates,” he says under his breath. “That’s what’s killing everybody. In my mind, I think I’m safe if I do a little coke here and there. I’m not chasing the opiates, (but I) did for years. I was at somebody’s house and I saw a girl overdose three times and then the next time they didn’t have a Naloxone kit and she .... was dead. And her mom was there, too.”

BarrieToday is unable to confirm the veracity of the story.

Scott says his first overdose was on methadone and it happened while drinking in his neighbour’s garage several years ago.

“My friend who was living with me... I just went back to our place to get into his methadone and he didn’t know,” Scott says. “I just took a sip and that was it. I wasn’t doing drugs then. If you’re not on it (methadone), it’ll kill you.”

THE BEGINNING

“I started smoking pot like everyone else. Then I got into the pills when I was around 17, 18. Just the people I was hanging around with, I thought I’d try this. First thing I ever did was Dilaudid. I wasn’t strung out on it, but I loved it. I did it all the time,” Scott says.

He dropped out of high school. “I went for the first day of Grade 11 and that was it for me."

Scott moved to Barrie from his hometown with family in 1997 and went back to high school at Barrie North Collegiate. He was under house arrest for the first six months of his time in the city to deal with petty crimes back home.

He also worked for several years on the line at an area manufacturing plant, beginning as a student and working his way up to team leader for the last five years he was at the job.

“I worked, I did the normal thing,” he says. “I’d party, go out on Friday with my buddies from work and we drank. I had a girlfriend. We had two kids. We bought a house, that kind of shit, right?”

They purchased their house in 2001 near Edgehill and Ferndale.

An old friend from back home called him up one day to see if he could rent the basement.

“Right away, I’m back into pills,” Scott says. “Within a year I’m on methadone. Boom. I’m feeling a bit better now, can’t you tell? I probably looked like shit when I walked in.”

But he blames himself for falling back into the lifestyle.

“Once I started again, there was no stopping. I was injecting and everything," he says. "I haven’t done that (inject) in like eight years. Lately, it’s just been the coke and stuff. I think I’ve done opiates maybe a handful of times since (my ex) and I split up.”

He says they broke up after his co-worker friend overdosed on heroin (which Scott had picked up for him) when his kids came home from school one day in June 2010.

“I saved his life; I had to call 911,” Scott says, adding his friend didn’t die in that instance, but he did pass away three months later.

“When I was working… I was a functioning addict. I managed to pay my bills, but eventually it bit us and we had to sell the house over my addiction.”

But he soon went from having a mortgage to paying rent.

“I never, ever did anything in front of my kids; I did all of my shit in the bathroom, They didn’t even know. They know now. They know some, but they don’t know the details. But they know Dad had an addiction problem, or has one.”

Scott says he was strung out on opiates beginning in 2001 up until the present day, because he still takes methadone to manage the cravings.

“Basically, I would get any opiate that I could get to not be sick. My preference was Dilaudid or morphine or heroin,” he says. “Eventually it got to the point where it was just heroin. That’s when (my wife) left me.”

The mother of his children always tried to help him by educating herself on addiction and doing what she could, he says.

Eventually, everything crumbled.

Scott says he likes where he was when he was clean.

“I got fat,” he says with a laugh. “I was literally 210 pounds. I lost it in about a month, but I was probably (170) a month ago. It was boring, but it was good because I didn’t do f-ck all. I saw my kids.”

Scott’s kids often come to mind in his darkest moments, particularly his son.

“He’s never given up on me. It’s amazing,” he says, adding his daughter’s situation is different and he worries about her. “She’s my twin. I’d rather her not be in that situation.”

However, he says it’s even hard to talk about addiction with his mother, "because she just doesn’t understand it.

“You can’t just quit something. I can’t just cold-turkey. I’d love to be able to say, ‘f-ck this methadone shit, I need to get my life together’.”

Scott has been on methadone since the early 2000s. He was on a daily dose of 90 milliltres and at one point down to 10 until he says a hospital visit brought it back up to 30, where he remains. Last time around, he said it took him a year to go from 30 to 10 when he was trying to wean himself off the drug. 

“I’ve been off of it once for about six months when I went from methadone to fentanyl,” he said, noting it was at his request. “My doctor prescribed me fentanyl to get me off of methadone so I could get my shit together. Bad choice.

“I’d get four patches on Monday and they’d be gone by Tuesday. I’d be sick for five days.”

He says the idea was to taper or wean him off, “because methadone’s a strong drug, too. But it doesn’t get you wired, it blocks it. I wanted to get off methadone and the addict in me wanted to get a prescription.”

His hope was that it could get him back together with his ex, who wasn’t involved in the drug scene at all. It never materialized.

When she left him in June 2010, she placed a picture of him on his bags. The image was of him with suction-cup marks still on his torso from a hospital visit when he was released from rehab.

“I was a proud junkie,” he says. “I almost wanted to be a junkie, just sit around listen to music and read books.”

He didn’t realize he would sink as deep as he did.

“I think I’m addicted to everything. It’s just the rush. It was basically for thrills to start with and then once you get wired on it, or addicted, that’s when the struggle begins.”

Despite all of the drugs he has ingested, rarely has he ever been scared by the prospect of death.

“Well, maybe the first time,” he says of doing heroin when he was 16 years old with friends. “They’re all dead now. I just think about memories, good times and bad times.”

He smoked crack for the first time at 18 in Tennessee. 

Scott said addiction is like being on a roller-coaster “since I was a teenager, but as far as having a problem, maybe 2000 or 2001.”

But he tries not to think about the drugs he takes.

“I just do it. I’ve been drinking again for about five days now,” says Scott, adding he also suffers from alcoholism and hasn’t told his AA sponsor yet that he has relapsed.

Scott recently turned back to the bottle and is hungover during the interview. “I was sober for like 60 days," he claims. 

With the opiates, it’s always about the next hit.

“I used to plan and I would buy prescriptions. I would buy them (my friend’s Dilaudid prescriptions) every Wednesday, and I’d literally be putting four here and four here,” says Scott, motioning on the table how he would try to spread them out. “I’ve got to make these last. I always tried to plan because I didn’t want to get sick.”

DRUGS IN BARRIE

The fentanyl on the street is scary because users don’t know what they are getting, he says.

“Whoever is distributing it or making it is getting it dirt cheap and they’re putting all kinds of shit in it,” Scott says.

Even though they are killing off their clientele, he says they don't care because there will always be someone else who comes along to take their place and gets hooked.

“The stuff that they’re doing now is called ‘purple’,” which is heroin mixed with fentanyl, he says. “And then carfentanil, people on methadone are just dropping (dead). I’ve seen it.”

Scott says he has smoked purple a couple of times within the last year.

“The first few times it’s fine, but once you get wired on it, then you gotta do it again.”

When the discussion turns to a possible safe injection/consumption site in downtown Barrie (an application to the provincial government is expected early this year), Scott admits he’s not sure how it would work. He says he supports a safe injection/consumption site, “to a point.”

“I don’t know that scene. I know the people, but I just don’t know what they’re going to let the people do.”

A new approach to tackling the local drug problem is obviously needed, he says, but even he’s not sure how to fix it.

“There’s all kinds of ways, but I just don’t know…”

Scott says he doesn’t want to see other people go down the same dark road he has travelled.

“Go to detox, get a doctor, get f--king help, because it’s there and it’s free,” he says, adding you have to “surrender and make that call.”

Within a few days, he says he would hear back that a detox bed was available at the Wellington Street facility.

“You come in and they stick you in the front, what we call the ‘spin dry’, for 72 hours or however long it takes you to get off your shit,” says Scott, who did two stints this summer in detox for alcohol.

“You basically sit in bed for three days shaking and every day they assess you. And if you’re good enough, they’ll let you go to the other side where you can make your own food, go outside for a walk, that kind of thing.”

Scott admits he’s not sure where he is in his path to recovery and whether he is heading up or down.

With cocaine, he said it was always about the "chase" and he could end it when the money ran out. 

“It’s different with opiates, because it gets you wired and it controls you. With cocaine, you can stop. But it’s a monetary thing and I don’t want to be spending money and waking up saying ‘holy shit, where’d the money go?' It’s just the chase and once the money’s gone, that’s it.”

But he says his biggest fear at the moment is starting to do cocaine again.

“The chase is when you’re doing it," he says. "Once you get over that jonesing for an hour or more, you go to bed and sleep for two days. That’s it."

Scott has seen the Barrie drug scene change drastically over the years.

“It’s brutal now,” he says. “Everybody’s dying. I’m on methadone. I can still get high, because I’m on a low (methadone) dose, but I don’t want to f--king die, that’s the thing. I know I’m good as long as I take my drink (methadone), so I won’t get sick and it blocks everything.”

The methadone takes away his craving to use drugs, but it’s a constant struggle, especially when alcohol is thrown into the mix.

“I don’t know if I’m about to slip, but it’s been a long time since I’ve touched it. I’ve been straight. I’ve done a lot of pills. The last year or so it was coke … and I’ve been going back out, which is what they call it in AA.”

Finding drugs in Barrie is easy, he says.

“Just go to a methadone clinic. Even if you don’t know anybody, anybody can find anything down there.”

Scott says he hates even going downtown.

“It’s brutal. I try to avoid it, but I’m numb to it now, the bullshit. I despise going downtown, I hate going to the methadone clinic. I f--king despise it. That’s why I get my drinks up here when I can,” he says, motioning to a nearby pharmacy.

He says he has to go downtown to provide urine samples on Mondays and Wednesdays at the High Street clinic, but hates running the gauntlet to get there. 

“I don’t want to see it. I’m not driving, so I’m walking to the bus terminal, or back and forth, and I have to do that walk,” he says. “I know 80 per cent of them.”

Scott says he wants to do whatever he can to help make the situation better for others.

“You’re working on this and that’s amazing, because you care about your city and I care about it, too, but I’m actually part of the f--king problem, but I’d like be part of the solution, too, right?”

What would 2018 Scott say to his 16-year-old self. “Watch what you’re doing. If somebody offers you something, just say no. Don’t do it.” 

Now 41 years old, he worries about his kids and the next generation.

“I would say they should do more education,” he says. “I didn’t know much about what was going on. I think kids should be educated, because the problem’s not going to go away. They have to fix it from the ground level.”


Raymond Bowe

About the Author: Raymond Bowe

Raymond is an award-winning journalist who has been reporting from Simcoe County since 2000
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