Manitoba

Winnipeg fentanyl user says friends have died because of lack of help

A Winnipeg fentanyl user says the drug is more dangerous now than ever, and her friend died after he was told he would have to wait six months for methadone treatment.

Access to treatment more important now than ever with new forms of fentanyl on the street

Winnipeg fentanyl user says friends have died because of lack of help

CBC News: Winnipeg at 6:00

5 years ago
2:02
A Winnipeg fentanyl user says the drug is more dangerous now than ever, and her friend died after he was told he would have to wait six months for methadone treatment. 2:02

A Winnipeg woman has lost several friends to fentanyl addiction, and is terrified that she'll be next.

The woman, who we're calling Amanda, has been addicted to opiates for nearly ten years and was actually texting with her friend, Adam Watson the night he died from a suspected fentanyl overdose. The experience, Amanda said, shook her so badly that she wanted to reach out to CBC, in the hopes that her story could help improve the lives of other opiate addicts.

Watson was 27-years-old when he died from fentanyl addiction in February. His family told CBC there is not enough help for fentanyl and other opiate addicts in Winnipeg.

Fentanyl has been linked to numerous overdoses across Canada. In January, the Manitoba government created a task force to raise awareness of illicit fentanyl use.

The drug is estimated to be 80 times more potent than morphine and hundreds of times more potent than heroin, according to the U.S. Centres for Disease Control.

Pot, a gateway drug for some

Amanda grew up in a small Manitoba town where she said she didn't have the greatest childhood, but for the most part, was safe and happy.  And, like a lot of Canadian teenagers, she started experimenting with marijuana at a young age.

And the next thing you know somebody offers you a line of cocaine at 14, because you're a nice pretty girl and look older than you are.- Amanda, fentanyl user

Amanda said pot was a gateway drug for her, "and the next thing you know somebody offers you a line of cocaine at 14, because you're a nice pretty girl and look older than you are." Eventually, after an encounter with crystal meth, Amanda started inhaling oxycontin.

Amanda said over time she built up a tolerance to oxycontin and would need as much as $500 worth of pills each day to satisfy her addiction. She was running out of money when someone made a recommendation.

Injecting drugs as a way to save money

Another drug user told her she could inject just $30 of oxycontin, get twice as high, and stay high the whole day.

In that moment I was so far gone and so sick with withdrawal that I made that decision and it was the worst decision of my life.- Amanda, fentanyl user

"I didn't want to do it because [I came from] a small community, in a small town, going to church twice a week," Amanda said. But her addiction was very strong at that point.

"I look in my wallet and am thinking 'I need to get through the day' … in that moment I was so far gone and so sick with withdrawal that I made that decision and it was the worst decision of my life."

"I let someone inject me with oxycontin and it was all downhill from there," Amanda said. Years later, calls injection opiates her "first love."

The path to fentanyl

After a while, even injecting oxycontin wasn't enough to satisfy her addiction, Amanda said, and to make matters worse, oxycontin was getting very hard to find.

"Oxycontin is getting too expensive, the prices are going up, so I get introduced to this new drug, fentanyl," Amanda said.

"It's not so much about getting high, it's about just being well and being able to be normal. And you make a decision to cross over to another drug and try fentanyl … and it becomes your drug of choice because you're at the top, you're at the limit, there's nothing stronger."

Fentanyl is an opioid-based drug and is roughly 100 times stronger than the painkiller morphine. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam) (Tom Gannam/Associated Press)

Amanda said when she started using fentanyl, it came in the form of medical patches and she knew exactly how much she was taking, because it was written on the patch.

"That was easier because you could say 'OK, this is a 100 microgram patch, I'm going to cut it into four pieces, now that's 25 micrograms.'"

But the medical community eventually realized how the patches were being used and cracked down on their distribution. That's when the form of fentanyl available in Winnipeg changed.

Fentanyl gets more dangerous

"Now they're making it almost a paper form, they call them 'blotters,' and this is why people are dying, because you never know what strength you're getting. You could go from getting a very, very diluted form, to the next batch, which can be super, super strong."

I've had 15 contacts on my phone and two of them die in three days. That's scary enough, that says it all.- Amanda, fentanyl user

According to a member of the Winnipeg Police Service Organized Crime Unit, who did not want to be identified, police "are seeing and hearing of increased amounts [fentanyl] available for sale in the city. We are also hearing of overdose cases in the city as well."

The officer said police are seeing "fentanyl patches as well as the powder and the fake oxy pills containing fentanyl."

Winnipeg police say they've seen fentanyl patches, powder and pills on the street. (CBC)

Amanda said she's seen some of those overdose cases first hand. "I've had 15 contacts on my phone and two of them die in three days. That's scary enough, that says it all."

She said she's "almost died a handful of times. I was resuscitated … and woke up on my kitchen floor." In fact, Amanda nearly died just a couple of days before she spoke to CBC.

A close call with overdose

"Unknowingly I injected something that I thought was fentanyl, and it wasn't," said Amanda.  

"I believe it was acid [LSD], mixed with fentanyl," she continued. "I completely had the worst experience of my life and I was dying and it was extremely scary and lonely and I was so far gone that I wasn't even able to get help."
Amanda (not her real name) says she started seeing carfentanil in Winnipeg in early 2016 (cbc news)

Amanda said she has been using opiates for nine years and credits methadone replacement therapy with keeping her alive, despite her addiction. But she says she got into a program purely on luck and the tenacity of her mother.

"Thank God the treatment I got, I went straight to the addictions unit as fast as I could for detox … and I was able to skip that six month wait list because my mother said, 'My daughter is going to die if you don't do this," Amanda said.

She credits the late Lindy Lee, the former head of the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba's inner city methadone clinic who passed away in November 2014, with recognizing her need and admitting her to the program, but Amanda said many of her friends weren't as lucky.

"People like Adam [Watson] aren't as fortunate, he had that six month wait list, I didn't. That six months, he couldn't wait, and that's why he's gone and I think that could be prevented."

In January, the province announced a new fentanyl taskforce. "To provide an opportunity to share information, increase knowledge of and capacity to respond to fentanyl use in Manitoba and implement strategies aimed at reducing fentanyl-related overdoses and deaths," said a provincial spokesperson.

The taskforce will be reviewing the current model for methadone replacement therapy.

The province also said the "co-chairs of the task force have been meeting regularly and the next meeting with the full task force is being scheduled for later this spring." Roundtable discussions with families affected by fentanyl have already taken place.

Amanda said after her recent near-overdose, something changed inside of her. This time, when she was overdosing, she was alone and the thought of dying like that terrified her so much, that "it's just like this giant light bulb just went off and I just decided this is it, I need to seek treatment and finish it and do this."

"I have lost too many friends and I don't want to be a statistic," she said.

If you would like to add anything to this story, please contact the author at leif.larsen@cbc.ca.

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