Stories of strength and determination from 3 recovering addicts in Sudbury

A closer look at the growing problem of opioid use in Sudbury and northeastern Ontario.

Jolene Lenius, Eric Cashmore and Shelly Linn Sabean share their stories about dealing with addiction

Jolene Lenius, Eric Cashmore, and Shelly Linn Sabean are recovering addicts in Sudbury. Cashmore says people need to realize that the disease of addiction can reach anyone — but given a chance, and lots of support, people can see the light at the end of the tunnel. (Jan Lakes/CBC)

Jolene Lenius, 39, is a recovering drug addict. She's seen many of her friends die and now spends her time keeping herself away from the lifestyle and helping others.

She and her friends make up some of the startling numbers that have been collected on what some are calling a "crisis" in the area.

Public Health Sudbury & Districts has been collecting some of that information. According to its website, preliminary data has shown that last year, 32 residents of Sudbury and Manitoulin died from an opioid-related overdose, 472 visits were made to the emergency department for suspected overdoses and 2,440 naloxone doses were distributed.

Lenius says she is working hard to make sure she — and others — do not become another statistic.

Five per cent chance of living

She wants people to know that this can happen to anyone.

"My parents aren't alcoholics. I never grew up around alcohol. I never grew up around partying. We weren't abused as kids. We weren't traumatized," she said.

"So I had a good upbringing as a child, but something still happened and I ended up being hooked on drugs."

She was however bullied as a child. Lenius says it may have had something to do with growing up Indigenous and gay in Sault Ste. Marie. She started drinking when she was 12 years old. That helped her cope with feelings of isolation and sadness. It wasn't until she was in her twenties that drugs played a part in her life.

Lenius says she started noticing a change in the city. Crystal meth, heroin and all kinds of pills started showing up at more and more parties. Within two years, her partner was shooting up.

"I thought if she's seen first hand she would make her stop. So I made her give me what she was using and then from that point I jumped in the hole with her and I couldn't get out," she said.

"That went on for six years."

Jolene Lenius, a recovering IV drug user, now works to help others with addictions

2 years ago
Duration 1:26
Jolene Lenius now works with addicts to help them realize that there is life after addiction. She's lost many friends in Sudbury to complications due to drug use. 1:26

During this time, her intravenous drug use led to some very serious health issues. At one point she ended up in hospital with an infection of her heart called endocarditis. 

"I had a five per cent chance living. I had a litre and a half in each lung. They airlifted me to Sudbury where I would have needed heart surgery and I had 10 different machines breathing for me, pumping me full of all kinds of drugs just to try to kill this infection. So I was in a coma for exactly 22 days," she said.

"Miracle beyond miracle I came out of it."

But her partner wasn't so lucky. Two days after Lenius got out of hospital, her partner went it with the exact same problem. She eventually died. It was a painful wake up call for Lenius.

"And the only thing that gives me peace is that she's not in pain. It took me watching her literally die in front of me to get clean and I just don't want that...I wish I could just help anybody not get there."

Lenius has now lost eight friends from that same infection. Getting help for herself has been a difficult and long road. So far, she is two years sober.  

"It feels amazing to see my parents happy. To not see my mom stressed out from worry, not sleeping, having insomnia for months and years because she didn't know if she got a phone call of her kid being found dead or something," she said.

"So for me it's the job that I got where I'm going to be able to help people who went through things like me."


It's the hardest thing to be yourself. Be your real truth.- Shelly Linn Sabean
Shelly Linn Sabean is a recovering drug addict living in Sudbury. She found help and frienship at the Monarch Recovery Services. (CBC Jan Lakes)
Shelly Linn Sabean is also very familiar with the grip that drugs can have on your life.

The 50 year old has been an addict since she was a child living in Toronto. Her parents were addicts and she says doing drugs was seen as a normal thing.

Her drug use led to her living on the streets and she was homeless for many years. One day, when she was in yet another round of detox in Toronto, she met a woman who told her about a rehabilitation program in Sudbury.

That facility is called Monarch today. Sabean says she made a very special connection with the women running the program.

"They loved us, they did, they loved us. It wasn't about being a counselor. It was loving and I've never been to a facility like that and that made the difference," she said.

It also helped that she'd moved away from her old life.

"You know I moved up here and I didn't know anybody that used. It was like a different person. I even had to detach with love to my mom. And that was one of the things that they taught me to do." 

Sabean says dealing with her addiction is a journey, and she admits that she does relapse, but she knows she always has a place she can come to when that happens. 

"You only hear the statistics when someone dies. You hear about that, but you don't hear about the addict who is still living, that no one knows about, that's incognito like that. The shame, guilt, they won't come in and it's like the hardest thing to be yourself. Be your real truth." 

If you reach out for help, things will get better- Eric Cashmore

Eric Cashmore, a recovering drug user, now works as an advocate for marginalized people in Sudbury and northeastern Ontario

2 years ago
Duration 0:51
Eric Cashmore struggled with drug use for many years after he was sexually assaulted in Toronto in 2008. He is now on the road to recovery and is putting his energy into helping others 0:51

Eric Cashmore has been sober for just over a year. In Toronto in 2008 he was sexually assaulted and contracted HIV.

That is when he starting using hard drugs to try and deal with the trauma. He eventually ended up homeless on the streets of Toronto.

Last September, an incident that happened in Sudbury changed things. One night, he took too many drugs and had a bad trip. He eventually ended up in the psychiatric ward at Health Sciences North, and that is when he decided to go to rehab.

Back in July, 2019 he pleaded guilty to a 2017 charge of communicating with a male for the purpose of obtaining sexual services for consideration, and a 2018 charge of trespassing at night.

He received a fine and probation on the first charge. The second was withdrawn.

He's been to six different facilities in one year, each time working to stay sober.

Cashmore says society needs to realize that addiction can reach anyone, but given a chance, and lots of support, people can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

"In recovery the world can really kind of open up for you and it's starting to do that for me now. I see these wonderful people smiling that used to be drug users," he said.

"The other thing I want to tell people is that if you feel like you know you've hit the end, reach out and tell someone because it's not the end. That's just how you feel in that moment. In 24 hours, if you reach out for help, things will get better." 

Now Eric spends the majority of his time working as an advocate for people who are dealing with addictions. Recently he's received awards in the community for his activist and for helping marginalized people in the community.


Jan Lakes


Jan Lakes is a producer at CBC Sudbury. You can reach her at or find her on Twitter @lakesCBC.


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