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Digging deeper: Canada's Toxic Drug Crisis

Vassy Kapelos Show

Traci Letts’ son Mike was cautious, shy and ‘just wanted to snuggle’ growing up. Like so many other kids, Mike played hockey, he loved to cook and was an avid reader. He also struggled with self-esteem and confidence, which his mom says may have played a part in leading him to what ultimately became an addiction. “It actually made him in his world feel a little bit more normal, like he was able to fit into his peer group, fit into the high school,” Traci told The Vassy Kapelos Show.

Mike suffered from his addiction for years, and his family navigated it all beside him. Learning of the severity of Mike’s addiction from his ex-girlfriend, Traci says it threw the whole family into chaos. “We didn't know what to do; there was no there's no handbook.”

Traci’s experience within and outside of the system is one that tens of thousands of Canadian families are enduring. The support systems in place are hard to figure out, and don’t come anywhere close in scope to what’s necessary to combat the scale of the crisis in this country. “The resources and the systems that we really thought were in place to support families…were non-existent,” Traci said. “That really made it more difficult to find a pathway for all of us to move forward.”

The most recently available data from the federal government shows that on average 22 people a day are dying in this country from opioid toxicity. Another 17 are being hospitalized and 80 a day are visiting an emergency room because of opioid-related poisoning. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for youths 10 to 18 years old in British Columbia and a study this week published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found over a quarter of deaths among Canadians aged 20-39 between 2019 and 2021 were linked to opioids.

Traci’s son Mike is among those who lost his life to addiction. He passed away at the age of 31, and Traci had dedicated much of her time to try to reduce the stigma around addiction, sound an alarm about the crisis level it has reached in Canada – and force political leaders to do something about it. She feels the lives of people like her son have been weaponized for political purposes – “that's what it feels like they're doing,” she said. “One side says one thing, the other side says something else: we should be working together - this should be a nonpartisan issue.”

In our series Digging Deeper, we’re taking a closer look at this crisis in four parts: talking to Traci about her family’s experience losing Mike, to Chris Cull who lived with his addiction for more than a decade and explains what it’s like to endure, to Dr. Monty Gosh about the science behind addiction and what happens to our brains, and to Marcus Gee about the debate raging on how to address the opioid crisis.

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The entire series can be listened to here: Top Stories

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