The Opioid Chapters
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“Drugs were in my system since I was two years old,” says Henry, a community services worker who lives in Ottawa. “The only difference between me and others is that they went to school and had a childhood. Yeah, there are the opioids. But there is also the life line that gets you there.”

The Opioid Chapters features Henry’s story along with those of 10 other people whose lives have been profoundly affected by opioids. A joint project of the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network (ODPRN) and the website Healthy Debate, this multimedia online series features powerful first-person narratives from people who take opioids for chronic pain, those with an opioid use disorder, and providers who work with both. “We created this project as a way to provide a platform for people to share their experiences with opioids—both positive and negative,” says Tara Gomes, Drug Policy Researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital and Principal Investigator of the ODPRN. “My hope is that, by understanding the various ways in which peoples’ lives are impacted by opioids, we can develop better policies that address the complexity of this issue.”

“Interviewing and photographing the participants was a profound experience,” says Seema Marwaha, physician and multimedia lead on the project. “It was different from a clinical interview—the goal was to understand their story and then do justice to portraying it.”

The stories reveal the singularity of each person’s experience with respect to opioids. Benjamin, a young father and student, is a strong proponent of harm reduction. For Fran, the best way forward from a history of addiction and ongoing chronic pain is Suboxone. Rupa, a family physician, partners with patients in an effort to help them taper off high doses of opioids. Michael has had chronic pain for 15 years and tried multiple treatments; opioids are what allow him to function.  

Taken together, these accounts also reveal the complexity of addressing what many are today calling an opioid crisis.There is no one solution. But to begin to make positive change, we need to understand the unique impact opioids have on different people’s lives. The Opioid Chapters offers a window into the difficult journeys and hard-won successes of people affected by opioids, and the importance of listening carefully to their experiences. “My doctor, my addictions counsellor, my grandmother, they never gave up on me, despite the stupid stuff I was doing,” says Sean, an advocate for people who use drugs. “I would ask everybody out there to do the same… just don’t give up on people.”

*For questions or comment, please contact Dana Shearer at