Nfld. & Labrador·Weekend Briefing

Who's abusing cocaine and painkillers? Not the people who may first come to mind

If you think that young adults are bearing the brunt of drug deaths, you're wrong.

It's not the kids; it's their parents' generation

Cocaine has become a popular party drug with users who need it out of their system in case of a random drug test.

Close your eyes for a moment, but before you do, read the rest of this paragraph: think of some typical people who've run into trouble with their drug habit. Imagine what they look like, where they live, and especially how old they are.

If you're like me, you probably skewed younger. Young adults, maybe even adolescents. Maybe you recalled seeing something on the news about drug charges in the courts, and some of the people who made their way across the screen.

If you're like me, you may have made some assumptions about the profile of users who died after overdosing.

How very wrong we are.

Remarkably, of the 14 deaths recorded in the first half of 2018 in Newfoundland and Labrador, the youngest was 30. The oldest was 61.

That's right: the age range is entirely above the stereotype of the kid who messed around with drugs and paid a heavy price.

It's not the kids, in other words. It's the parents. 

And it very well could be actual moms and dads, too — the 14 deaths include eight men and six women. You have to wonder about the families left behind.

As my colleague Ariana Kelland reported earlier in the week, cocaine-related deaths in N.L. have now exceeded deaths caused by opioids, at least in the data reported from that six-month period.  

The opioid crisis, though, is not over, as hospitalizations caused by accidental overdoses continue to occur.

Again, though, there's a demographic element that may surprise you.

In the rest of the country, the growing problem with opioid overdoses is adults between 25 and 45.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the demographic that pops out is between 50 and 69.

That's right. Over 50, not under. We're now talking about a generation that includes grandparents. 

Opioids, of course, are meant to be prescribed to older patients suffering from chronic diseases or coping with diagnoses like cancer. The fact, though, that they are overdosing to such an extent is troubling. 

The demographics of the drug problem in Newfoundland and Labrador are changing, and I need to dig in and learn more about what's going on.

We all do.

The oil connection

Meanwhile, there were two elements to Ariana's reporting this week — which included, by the way, a revelation that dealers are cutting cocaine with caffeine, perhaps to give users a buzz, but not the kind they're paying for — that is connected to the oil industry.

First, there is an already-understood phenomenon of how cocaine has become popular with people working in oil production, where random drug tests are common. 

Dr. Bruce Hollett treats patients with addictions issues through his practice at the Waterford Hospital in St. John's. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Cocaine, unlike opioids, clears out of the system very quickly. To a worker who has come off a platform (or who has returned from an oilsands camp, if they commute to Alberta), cocaine is a tempting party drug.

Second, there are indications that the ongoing price slump that started in 2014 is playing into a wider drug problem.

Consider this observation from Dr. Bruce Hollett, who is intimately aware of addictions issues as one of the medical leaders at the Waterford Hospital.

"I'm not sure if it's the cocaine, whether it's the climate of doom and gloom because oil prices are down and there's not as much work," Hollett told CBC, "but we are finding people are using more cocaine to obliterate social problems."

Speaking of gloom and doom …

Earlier this week, Ramona Dearing organized an episode of CrossTalk about a subject that has gotten a lot of people down: the news.

The issue was sparked by a point of view column we published in November by contributor Dwayne Tuck, who has found that much of the news around the world is too much to handle.

Tuck's perspective is not isolated at all. In journalism, we're quite aware of fatigue that comes from headlines that wear away at you, to the point that people just turn away.

I'm not immune from it either, especially when I do my morning check of what's happened around the world — especially in Washington, D.C.

On the show (you can listen to program in the player below), Ramona talked about how disturbing it is for her to read about the slaughter and possible extinction of animals at risk.

After the show, my wife reminded me that Archbishop Desmond Tutu once famously remarked that newspapers were "God's to-do list."

That is a valuable perspective, but I wanted to talk about some of the work we're doing at CBC that is a bit more constructive, and how we're looking at storytelling in a broader way.

Many viewers say they have been turned off by a steady diet of negative news.

Almost a year ago, we started a pilot here in St. John's to be more deliberate about storytelling: to find stories and characters that go beyond the hard news headlines. We want to hear more people — real people — tell their stories in their words. We want to get out in the community more often.

We want to publish, as my colleague Peter Gullage puts it, "the news of life" — the bits of connective tissue that we all do every day, but which never make it, say, to a media briefing in Confederation Building.

Don't think for a second we've decided to screen for fluff or "happy" news. I'm not opposed to either, necessarily, but that's not the point.

As just a few examples, we've looked at how a St. John's barber shop is an insight into how the city is changing; we've brought you numerous first-person essays, like Vickie Morgan's column about deciding to move home despite some scary economic prospects out of the gate; stories about overcoming obstacles that had seemed insurmountable; even a funny take on Costco … told with cartoons.

Vickie Morgan is one of the contributors who have penned point of view columns for CBC. (Sarah Smellie/CBC)

We've had a little DIY, some nostalgia, a dip into the music scene, some biting commentary on the odd boondoggle or political problem. Dwayne Tuck's column mentioned above came out of this project. In other words, a broad spectrum. 

One of our key goals was to not stop for a second in our traditional news gathering. If anything, we're as committed to original, enterprise and investigative journalism as ever, and that's tricky with resources being the way they are.

Another key goal, though, was to fill out our offer, by taking audiences more deeply into the community. In a way, it's back to the future: for those of in the newsroom of a certain, um, vintage, this is the revered CBC tradition of current affairs. As well, it's a core mandate of the CBC to reflect the community back to itself.

I have to say, it's been one of the most exciting projects I've been involved with in my career.

The pilot, by the way, worked. We're rolling along here, always looking for new voices and bringing in some familiar ones (you'll see a funny column by novelist and screenwriter Ed Riche today).

It's also a model for other regions. The project we launched last winter is now up and running in four other CBC stations.

We think we're onto something.

Quote of the week 

Ron Pumphrey's lengthy career included several stints as a broadcaster. (Flanker Press/Facebook)

"He was an extrovert extraordinaire, no doubt about that." 

That's Randy Simms, who has spent a few decades himself around microphones, paying tribute to Open Line legend Ron Pumphrey. Pumphrey died Tuesday at 87. 

Got a little time for a little reading? 

We have some suggestions. Here are some of the stories we've published over the last seven days that you have missed, or want to revisit. 

The best story you're going to read involving a windshield

That's not the only act of kindness; these folks use shovels to be nice

Horses can be stitched up with buttons

Some business trips have happy endings (and life-changing opportunities) when there's a chance detour

If you witnessed a collision, do you know what you should do

The pedestrian who drew the slippery streets of St. John's like a ski resort map

Sharon Bala is one of the authors in this year's #nlreads competition. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

We all owe a debt to the people who helped persuade Sharon Bala to be a full-time writer

"I've fallen and I can't get up" is an advertising catchphrase, but it's also a legitimate worry for many with elderly parents living alone. 

In the market for some conflict? There's a dispute in St. John's about markets and Thursday nights

Finally, you've got to admire these guys who adapted a child's slide to get chopped firewood in the house

The better side of winter

The weather lately has prompted the emotional gamut: pain, joy, everything in between. 

Hoar frost in Gander. Beautiful! (Submitted by Walter Gill)

This photo reminds us that even a hard frost can be a thing of beauty. 

You can find a whole lot more to see in our latest audience gallery. If you'd like to contribute, we'd love to see your photos. Send the photo and caption information to We post many to our gallery as well as to our social media channels, as well as Ashley Brauweiler's segments on Here & Now

That's it for this week. Have a wonderful weekend! 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 


John Gushue

CBC News

John Gushue is the digital senior producer with CBC News in St. John's.


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