More and more people in Sudbury and northeastern Ontario are looking for help with a prescription drug addiction.

Five years ago more than 200 people in the region called the province's Drug and Alcohol Helpline for help with prescription painkillers.

That number has more than doubled — to almost 550 people.

Cam McTaggart, an intake worker at a Sudbury recovery home for men known as Rockhaven, said people need to be aware of how addictive drugs such as Oxycontin can be.

"It starts off as being affordable," he said.

"It starts off as being portable. You can't smell anything in their breath. And it's a terrific, terrific high. But they will never capture that initial high again. And that is the chasing of the dragon."

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Opiates are the shortest road to hell,” according to one local doctor.

Overwhelming demand for help

Numbers from the Ontario Drug and Alcohol Helpline show painkiller abuse is second only to problems with alcohol among those seeking help. And outreach workers say the demand goes well beyond the resources available to help.

"I could fill the Sudbury arena with people who probably need help. But the people who want help is quite reduced," McTaggart said.

There is a constant waiting list at Rockhaven.

Methadone therapy is a treatment option offered to addicts.The drug is used to help people overcome a dependence on a range of opiates, including heroin.

Dr. Michael Franklyn, who works at one of the methadone clinics in Sudbury, said most of his patients have a problem with prescription pain pills.

"Other than Crystal Methamphetamine, opiates are the shortest road to hell," Franklyn said.

"You can go from just experimenting at a party to hopelessly addicted within a month to three months."

Franklyn said the wait list to start methadone therapy is three to four months. For an addiction that can destroy lives in far less time, Franklyn said the wait is far too long.

‘Methadone not the solution’

"The problem with this is it's a life-threatening illness," he added.

"[It’s] far more serious than diabetes, or stroke. It kills young people in the prime of their life. "

Franklyn noted Methadone is not the solution. If it is, it's a tiny part of the solution.

"We have to look at the source of these drugs," he said.

"Methadone was used for heroin addicts. We have no heroin addicts. We have virtually 100 percent prescription opiate addicts. And those are written by family doctors, or specialists, or stolen, or gotten by illegal gains. But that is virtually the only drug we are seeing people come in on."

Finding a solution means education has to be front and centre "for the public, for physicians, for police," Franklyn said.

"People have to be taught just how dangerous these drugs can be."