More and more people are struggling with prescription painkiller addiction in Hamilton.

According to statistics obtained by CBC Hamilton from the Drug and Alcohol Treatment Information System, admission rates for local opioid withdrawal programs are now the second highest in the province, behind only northern Ontario.

In 2002, one in ten people who entered a withdrawal management program at St. Joseph’s Healthcare were opioid patients. By 2012, it was one in four.

But these people aren't just numbers — each of them has a unique story about just how they fell into addiction and their journey out of it.

Debbie Bang, the manager of St. Joseph’s Healthcare Womankind addiction service says trauma is the root cause of addiction.  “And until we can change that piece, there is going to be a demand," she said. "And as long as there is going to be a demand, there is doing to be a supplier.”

In each of these three cases, trauma and mental illness were a contributing factor to addictions that quickly spiralled out of control. In these audio segments, follow the lives of three people as they explain their motivations, their feelings, their shortcomings and their advice for anyone facing addiction.

Meet Buckley, the dog that saved Nicole's life

Nicole’s addiction grew from fleeting arthritis — a virus that attacks the joints. It was intensely painful. On any given day, she’d wake up in immense pain, to the point that she could barely feed or dress herself.

Doctors prescribed her the painkiller percocet.

She liked how it made her feel. And soon, the problems started.

Listen to Nicole talk about her addiction in her own words, and, on the night she tried to kill herself, the little dog that saved her life:

Jim, who got his life together after getting on methadone

Jim started out early with cocaine. He first tried snorting it at 13 years old.

But he overdosed five times, so he started using OxyContin for the pain – and eventually, he was shooting it.

“Opiate addiction is different. It’s survival. You need this, or you’re going to be on the floor, dying,” he says.

“Your blood is going to feel like fire.”

Listen to Jim talk about losing his whole life to opioid addiction – and the services that helped him get it back before it was too late:

Rebecca, whose horse kept her going

Rebecca's problems started with depression at an early age. But she didn't feel like she could talk to anyone - she felt like she had to go it on her own.

It wasn’t long before she turned to drugs: cocaine, pot, MDMA, crack, and finally – opioids.

“It just takes you over. It’s a big wave of bliss,” she says. “You don’t feel any pain, you don’t think about anything that’s hurting you.”

“It was like breathing. There was no option not to do it.”

Listen to Rebecca talk about her repeated struggles with detoxing, and how much happier she is with life after drugs:

Killing Pain: Prescription drug abuse now Hamilton's biggest drug problem

CBC Hamilton examines the city's growing opiates addiction problem in a three-part series.

  • Tuesday: How prescription opiate abuse is taking over the city's drug scene and what medical and addiction specialists are doing about it.
  • Wednesday: The growing connection between crime and prescription drug abuse.
  • Thursday: Stories of addiction and struggle. Three former addicts share their stories.

Live chat

Join CBC Hamilton Thursday at noon for a live chat with Dr. Norm Buckley, professor and chair in the Department of Anaesthesia at McMaster's Michael G DeGroote School of Medicine. Buckley will be speaking about Hamilton's prescription painkiller problem, and just how this stakeholder group is trying to fix it.