Chronic pain patient Dawn Rae Downton, 60, is considering drastic choices if she's cut off the highly powerful painkiller Fentanyl — which she has taken for 12 years — thanks to new guidelines for doctors prescribing opioid painkillers.

"What I would probably have to do is try and bring in drugs illegally through customs from online sites, or look to the street to see if I could find a dealer."

This week, a team of researchers from McMaster University issued new recommendations aimed at changing this statistic: Canadians are the second highest users per capita of opioids in the world. 

Thousands of deaths across the country have been linked to opioid abuse, prompting officials to call it a crisis, an epidemic and a public health emergency.

'I got my life back'

The Halifax woman, who suffers from a rare type of inflammatory arthritis, wants to make this clear: she doesn't get high from taking Fentanyl, the lightning rod among opioids.

"Absolutely do not," she said with a chuckle. Quite the opposite. She says she gets a low, weighed-down feeling from the medication.

Fentanyl patch

Fentanyl medication can come in patches or pills. (CBC)

Fentanyl has worked to cut pain where other medications and physiotherapy haven't, she says. "I failed everything, nothing helped my pain."

A pain clinic specialist eventually started her on a low dose of Fentanyl in a patch, which she changes every three days. 

"It made all the difference to me. I got my life back, basically," says Downton.

Otherwise, sitting, walking and even standing would be "agonizing," she says.

'I probably would think about suicide'

Downton has looked up the new prescribing guidelines and asked her doctor what they could mean for her. She believes her dosage of Fentanyl might be reduced by 90 per cent. 

"I'd be left really with no meaningful pain coverage."

If she's unable to get her hands on the medication legally or on the black market, "I probably would think about suicide. It would seem like a reasonable option."

Blaming pain patients

She knows of two people in the last few months who've taken their own lives to end unbearable pain and yet, she says it is legitimate patients who are being made "a convenient scapegoat" in the politics of opioids. 

"I feel like there's been too much blaming of legal chronic pain patients for this problem. We have nothing to do with it. Nothing."

She calls announcements by governments and prescribing guidelines, "optics that it's doing something" to address the problem of opioid abuse.

The real source of the problem, she says, is overseas where chemical powders are sold and smuggled into Canada, and then pressed into tablets by drug dealers.