The Opioid User’s Intensely Dangerous Life Revealed

A desperate man in a dark space.

A chaotic lifestyle, ill health, missing money, lost jobs and relationships, hostile and secretive behavior and long absences—families see these signs of addiction without realizing what they add up to. Often, this goes on for years before the real problem becomes apparent. It’s drug use. Drug use to the point of destroying a person’s life.

Generally, more time goes on while the family struggles with the problem. They beg, they bribe. Sometimes they look the other way while their loved one lives in the basement or the guest house. They just want to keep the person alive until he (or she) asks for help. They hope, they pray.

The problem is that due to the nature of addiction, it’s very hard for most people to ever ask for that life-saving help. Or maybe they ask for help and the family begins looking for a rehab facility with a lightened heart. Before arrangements can be made, the person is gone again.

When the problem is opioids—heroin or prescription painkillers—the family usually knows that their loved one risks an overdose with each injection of drugs. After all, that risk is described in so many news articles they’ve read about this problem. But just how intense is this risk? A new research project has just shed light on this subject.

Vancouver Supervised Consumption Site Survey

This research project took place in Vancouver, British Columbia, which has what’s called “supervised consumption sites” where injecting drug users can come to inject drugs with clean needles and medical supervision. If you’re not familiar with this kind of service, the purpose of this establishment is to prevent overdoses, connect drug users with medical personnel and channel as many people as possible into rehabilitation programs.

Researchers sought out 72 participants who were injecting opioids to find out their experiences with the fentanyl being found in the drug supplies. But their survey also provided a look at the incredible risk each person was taking by consuming opioids from a completely uncontrolled, illicit supply.

  • Out of these 72 people, 44 had overdosed in the past year.
  • Ten of these 44 had overdosed twice.
  • Nineteen had overdosed 3 or more times.
  • Fifteen had overdosed in the prior 30 days.

About a quarter of those who had overdosed suspected that fentanyl was involved in their overdose. With fentanyl, an overdose will manifest itself in seconds, rather than the minutes it takes for a heroin overdose to overwhelm a person. Too many people who have died of overdoses have been found with a needle still in their arm. They never even had the time to withdraw it.

An ambulance rushes through the night to save the life of a person who has overdosed.

One person described the effect as injecting the drug and waiting for something to happen and the next thing you know, you’re being revived by emergency medical personnel.

Families often learn about the risk of an overdose soon after they learn their loved ones are trapped in opioid addiction. This survey points out just how intense this risk is. Fentanyl is a game-changer. Now more than ever before, a person addicted to opioids needs rehab. If you need help saving the life of someone you love, please call us. We have helped tens of thousands and we can help your family too.


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.