The Sunday Edition

How an innovative program is using housing, safer drugs to get people off the streets

Dr. Jeff Turnbull quit his prestigious job as chief medical officer of the Ottawa Hospital to launch a program that combines housing and access to clean opioids — the only one of its kind in Canada. Alisa Siegel's documentary is called Where I Want To Be.
Dr. Jeff Turnbull and Ricky Belanger are both part of an innovative program in Ottawa to get people who are addicted to opioids off the street. (Alisa Siegel/CBC)
Listen34:53

Dr. Jeff Turnbull and Ricky Belanger make unlikely allies.

Belanger is rake thin, with a bandaged left hand, and has spent decades living on the street, addicted to drugs. 

Turnbull had a prestigious career as chief medical officer of the Ottawa Hospital until he shocked his colleagues by stepping down last year.

Dr. Jeff Turnbull left his job as the chief medical officer at the Ottawa Hospital to treat opioid addiction full-time. (Alisa Siegel/CBC)

But Turnbull and Belanger have known and admired each other for years. They met on Ottawa's most destitute street corners — where Belanger lived on the curb, and where Jeff offered medical care, for free.

Now they are connected through a program that is the only one of its kind in the country. It takes people off the street and gives them a real home. And in that residential setting, it treats opioid addiction with "clean" opioids — pharmaceutical-grade medication that replaces the drugs users would normally get on the street, which can be laced with things like fentanyl. 

In the thick of the overdose crisis, it's a chance at a better life.

Click 'listen' above to hear Alisa Siegel's documentary, Where I Want To Be.