Former opioid addict helps fight Hamilton's 'terrible drug problem'

Fifty-two Hamiltonians died of opioid overdose last year — a death rate nearly double the provincial average.

'It's so frightening. The risk of overdose is just so high'

Glenn spent his high school years in Hamilton, where he started using drugs. After almost a decade of heroin addiction, he moved back to the city last year. (Adam Carter/CBC)

When Glenn moved back to Hamilton last year, he was floored.

As someone who struggled with addiction for years, he knows all about the perils of using opioids — and he sees their effects all over town.

He sees them in the needle disposal boxes in the bathrooms of local coffee shops, and in the faces of people asking for money on the street. Hamilton has a drug problem.

"We're barely scratching the surface. We have a terrible drug problem here," he said. CBC News is not publishing Glenn's last name to protect his identity.

The numbers support that problem. In the week of Oct. 9 to Oct. 15 alone, 51 people in Hamilton sought help at emergency rooms for suspected overdoses, according to the city's opioid information monitoring system.

Fifty-two Hamiltonians died of opioid overdose last year — a death rate nearly double the provincial average.

Of particular concern is the powerful prescription painkiller fentanyl. "It's so frightening," Glenn said. "The risk of overdose is just so high."

The issue is on the city's radar, as it studies whether or not Hamilton should have a supervised injection site — but a decision on a controversial move like that isn't expected until the end of this year, at the earliest.

Spiraling out of control

In the meantime, Glenn, and other people like him, are doing what they can to help. He's a member of Cocaine Anonymous, which is holding a convention in Toronto this weekend.

The group meets in Hamilton three times a week, and helps people who have dealt with a variety of addictions, not just cocaine.

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Glenn, who is 58-years-old, spent his high school years in Hamilton. He got a taste for drugs early, using things like LSD and speed.

But he didn't have to deal with a full-blown addiction until his late 20s, when he tried heroin.

"I became a junkie overnight, the first time I tried it," he said.

He used heroin for seven years, as his life spiraled out of control. He lost his job, his house, and his partner. He hit rock bottom on the street, stealing to feed his addiction.

'I did terrible things'

Eventually, he was arrested, after sinking to robbing people at knifepoint.

"I'm a pacifist. I'll walk around insects on the sidewalk," Glenn said. "But I did terrible things."

"Drugs become this imperative. I have mortgage payments — but so what? I've gotta get high."

It was in jail that he finally was able to start the process of turning his life around. He stopped using heroin eight years ago, and fully weaned himself off methadone roughly three-and-a-half years ago.

He went back to school and studied data analysis, got a job, and now helps people in Hamilton try to get their lives back on track. He spends time as a Cocaine Anonymous sponsor, and helps run meetings in local hospitals and in institutions like the Barton Street jail, where addictions are pervasive, he says.

Glenn says that he's living proof that life can get better, even for people with the most dire of addictions.

"My life has been transformed," he said.

"Life just got so much lighter."

The southern Ontario Branch of Cocaine Anonymous's convention is happening this weekend at the Radisson Admiral Hotel at the Toronto Harbourfront at 249 Queen's Quay.

For more information, visit socaconvention.org.



Adam Carter


Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.