Cape Breton’s increasing drug use has destructive effects on community

Nov 4, 2021

A recent article published by CBC Cape Breton has examined the damaging effects of street drug use on the island.

According to the Ally Centre of Cape Breton, the island has the highest rate of illicit drug use in Atlantic Canada, resulting in devastating effects on its inhabitants. In his interview with CBC News, Sydney resident David Crowe said that his drug use led him to lose most of his family, his former way of life, and damaged his health.

Mr. Crowe said his addiction started with alcohol. “I lost everything that I owned,” he said. “All my savings, anything I’ve ever worked for and managed to have that mattered to me. I used to own a house. Own. Mortgage free and clear. Owned it. I had a small business, a beautiful wife and two beautiful children. When that all went to hell, that was all about the drinking back then.”

Following a workplace accident, Mr. Crowe became dependent on the opioid oxycodone, and lost his job after testing positive for THC, the active ingredient in cannabis.

As his addiction continued, Mr. Crowe also lost his partner, who had supported him during his opioid withdrawal and continued use of other drugs.

“I can’t believe she stayed with me as long as she did when I look back, and I lost her,” Crowe said.

“I lost a lot of friends. I lost contact with my family. My mother is dying of Parkinson’s and dementia. I don’t even know what kind of shape she’s in. I don’t even know if I ever managed to mend that fence and go back there, if she’d even recognize me, you know?”

In addition, Mr. Crowe said that he continues to use cocaine, which has put his health at risk. “It ceases to be a choice in your mind,” he said. “It’s like the most intense compulsion and it’s so hard to fight, even if you have goals that really matter.

The results of a survey carried out by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction revealed that hospitalizations due to opioid poisoning are increasing across the country and there were 2,913 opioid-related deaths in 2019. Moreover, Nova Scotia provincial government statistics show that in 2020, there were 96 substance-related fatalities, 50 of which were confirmed or probable opioid-related deaths.

Giulia DiGiorgio, an advocate with the Ally Centre of Cape Breton, said drug use in Cape Breton has led to high rates of hospitalization and death, and made residents more likely to experience homelessness and health concerns.

“I lost everything,” DiGiorgio said. “Ended up on the streets of Toronto for many years, living under a bridge and squeegeeing and selling crack and heroin.”

DiGiorgio is also chair of the Cape Breton Association of People Empowering Drug Users (CAPED). Together, CAPED and the Ally Centre have collaborated to create an overdose prevention site in Sydney, hoping it will be one of five sites in the country to offer a safe supply of opioids to select users through a nationally funded pilot project.