Desperate for relief from unbearable pain following knee surgery, Lorna Bird says she was forced to buy drugs from the Downtown Eastside streets of Vancouver when her doctor stopped prescribing an opioid in response to new standards aimed at preventing fatal overdoses.

3 Jul 2017

“I started with heroin because I couldn’t stand the pain,” Ms. Bird said, recalling her fears about dying from fentanyl-laced street drugs because “everybody was croaking” and she didn’t want her grandchildren dealing with that outcome.

Ms. Bird, 60, said the prescription opioid hydromorphone, which is five times more potent than morphine, numbed the pain after her surgery in December, 2014, but her doctor tapered off the dosage before stopping it despite her continuing pain.

Experts say Ms. Bird is among thousands of Canadians facing the predicament of getting pain-numbing street drugs after being weaned or taken off opioids to which they’ve become addicted.

Opioids Canada

Ms. Bird said concerns about contaminated heroin had her spending $100 a day on cocaine instead, but she tries not to use it alone because she worries about overdosing if the powerful painkiller fentanyl has been added to anything she buys on a street corner.

Ms. Bird recalled a conversation with her doctor: “I told him, ‘I’m shooting up powder now, cocaine, because that’s what kills the pain.’”

She said he cited standards by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia for his decision before resuming a much lower dose of hydromorphone, along with methadose.

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