Hamilton

'It's everywhere': A former opioid dealer says Hamilton is full of fentanyl

Few people know the depths of Hamilton’s opioid problem like Lenore Power — because she lived it for over a decade.

Hamilton Addiction and Mental Health Collaborative hosting public forum on painkillers

Lenore Power credits St. Joe's Womankind addictions service with helping her overcome her addictions. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Few people know the depths of Hamilton's opioid problem like Lenore Power — because she lived it for over a decade.

Power has been clean now for about six months, but her spiral into addiction started 15 years ago.

Now, she's part of a public forum the Hamilton Addiction and Mental Health Collaborative is hosting tonight at Mohawk College's MacIntyre Centre, to share her story and experiences in an effort to better understand a problem running rampant the city.

The 50-year-old broke her back in an altercation over a decade ago, she says, and that's when a doctor started her on the prescription painkiller percocet. From there, she was hooked.

"I started up the ladder to hydromorphone and oxycontin and heroin and finally fentanyl," she told CBC News. "It's been quite a haul."

She once had her own esthetics business and owned her own home, with only $40,000 left to pay on the mortgage. She lost both as her addiction took over, and a $500 to $700 a day opioid habit took hold.

It goes right across the board here. It's everywhere.- Lenore Power

To keep up with that habit, she started dealing. It was there that she became really acquainted with just how much opioids have taken a hold on the city.

Most of her clients weren't "low class" people, she says — they couldn't be, to afford habits like this. "It goes right across the board here," she said. "It's everywhere."

Deaths mounting

There have been more opioid-related deaths in the Hamilton LHIN over a five-year period than anywhere else in the province, according to a recent study from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.

The report also shows that the Hamilton LHIN (which includes Niagara, Haldimand and Brant) had the highest number of opioid-related hospital admissions and emergency department visits in the entire province in 2014.

According to preliminary reports from the provincial coroner's office, there were 47 deaths in Hamilton caused by opioids or a combination of opioids and alcohol in 2015.

Former opioid addict Nicole and Debbie Bang, the manager of St. Joseph’s Healthcare Womankind addiction service, explain prescription painkiller addiction. 3:57

That same year, there were 199 emergency department visits and 89 hospitalizations for opioid poisoning among Hamilton residents.

But Power didn't end up one of those statistics. She hit rock bottom when she got arrested. She has two kids and two grandchildren, and both were going through problems of their own at that time, she says, but she couldn't be there for them.

"They needed me to be there, and I couldn't be. That crushed me," she said. "It crushed my heart."

Trying to get better

She entered the St. Joe's Womankind addictions services program, but recovery wasn't an easy task. Recovering from that addiction is like the worst pain ever, Power says — with pain, hot and cold sweats, restless leg syndrome, and vomiting.

I didn't think they'd be able to help me, but they did.- Lenore Power 

"It's very hard — the sickness with fentanyl is so much worse than anything else," she sad. "It's 10 days before you come around the corner and you think you might live."

And that whole time, there's a thought in the back of your mind that if you just head around the corner for one fix, everything could feel better. "That thought pretty much overrides anything else," she said.

But she got through it. "I didn't think they'd be able to help me, but they did. It's an amazing program," she said.

Tonight's event is a free public forum to discuss fentanyl and carfentanil, which has recently been found in the city for the first time. Both painkillers are extremely powerful — carfentanil especially. A dosage smaller than a grain of salt is enough to cause an overdose.

In response, the city has committed to a new opioid surveillance and monitoring system in an effort to share information and save lives.

Tonight's event starts at 7 p.m. and runs until 9 p.m. at 135 Fennell Avenue West. Admission is free, but food bank donations are welcome.

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter

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