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Fentanyl user shares experience with powerful drug

A Mississauga, Ont., man addicted to fentanyl says the drug has derailed the last decade of his life, but he continues to use, believing he can do so safely.

Opiate abuser has overdosed multiple times, but still says narcotics can be used safely

An opiate user who says he's addicted to fentanyl holds a bag containing some fentanyl powder mix. (CBC)

A Mississauga, Ont., man addicted to fentanyl says the drug has derailed the last decade of his life, but he continues to use, believing he can do so safely.

The man, who isn't being identified because of the effect his disclosure may have on his employment and family, manages to hold down a job and has never been arrested for his drug use.

He says he usually smokes or snorts fentanyl — a potent painkiller more than 100 times more powerful than morphine — twice a day to ward off withdrawal symptoms, though sometimes he does more in search of a stronger high.

In an interview with CBC News, he offers a glimpse into what life is like for an addict of a drug that has been pushed into the national spotlight following a rash of highly publicized overdoses

Health officials and police departments across Canada have repeatedly warned that modifying fentanyl patches, cutting them into smaller pieces to use recreationally, can be incredibly lethal and has caused hundreds of deaths across the country.

The patch is designed to remain intact to ensure the drug is released slowly over time.

Still, the user says he believes he can keep using fentanyl, or heroin laced with fentanyl, despite two or three past overdoses.

"I'm all about safety, to a point," he told CBC News.

"I want to make sure I get high, but I also want to make sure I don't die."

'The drug is so potent'

Dr. Mark Weiss, medical director at Toronto's Bellwood Health Services, said fentanyl use on the streets is never safe and people using it are gambling with their lives.

"It's not possible to use fentanyl safely," he said. "There's a risk in using opiates illicitly."

Dr. Weiss added that even a method of use perceived to be low-risk entails the potential for great harm. 

"Using a slightly greater amount of fentanyl can cause death because the drug is so potent," Dr. Weiss added. 

The man, right, says he hopes to get off drugs eventually, but for now he's 'chained' to them. (CBC)
In addition to fentanyl, the fentanyl user said he has used an array of opiates, including poppy tea, oxycodone, heroin and methadone for a period while he was trying to break his habit. His main objective, he said, is to get as high as possible for the lowest price.

He admits he never knows how powerful the drugs he takes are, but says he tries to measure his dosage based on online calculators. He also refuses to do the drugs intravenously, instead opting to smoke or snort small amounts at a time.

"There's nothing safe about it and there never will be. I just think that if you're going to do it then you should know the best information you can get," he said.

But despite his caution, he has lost consciousness after using what he thought was a small amount of drugs.

"It freaked me out," he said.

'No positive effect on your life'

The man said fentanyl is relatively easy to find if you know drug dealers. On the street, he asks for "stickies" or just "patches," but said there are other names for it as well. When he wants fentanyl mixed with heroin — a combination dealers sell for less than heroin on its own — he asks specifically for "fake heroin."

While it would be "impossible" to know how potent the drug is, he said he certainly knows when there's fentanyl in the product he's using, because it has a different smell and texture.

Dr. Weiss disputed any recreational user's ability to detect potency. 

Fentanyl is used to treat severe pain with a traditional transdermal patch but is used recreationally via injection, smoking or snorting. (CBC)
"It's playing Russian roulette because you never really know what you're getting and you can't tell how much you're getting from the way it looks," he said.

"Different tablets contain different amounts of fentanyl and the person making the tablets has no idea," the doctor added. "If a fentanyl tablet, for example, is supposed to contain 1 mg, it can easily contain 2 mg and that can be the difference between life and death."

The man says his parents are aware of his drug use, and previously helped him into a methadone treatment plan. But today, they're unaware of how serious his relapse has been and he still hides his drug use from others, including his brother.

And, it once cost him a job when he arrived at work with a "hangover high" from the night before.

"It absolutely has no positive effect on your life … you'll never have a proper, meaningful life," he said. "You'll never be able to move forward in your life," he added, noting he feels like he's in the same place as he was nine years ago.

The man says he hopes to permanently quit one day, but also admits he did some drugs just hours before his interview with CBC News.

"I have to live every day, you know, kind of chained to a substance, which is a pretty negative consequence." 

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