In September 2001, my life changed drastically. I was nine years old. My Dad was placed on workers’ compensation due to a back injury. At the time it seemed cool; my Dad was always home and there to hang out with, but I was too young to realize the pain that he was suffering from an inoperable herniated disk. We had just started seeing a new family doctor; he was eager to help my Dad through his pain by prescribing him OxyContin. The narcotic painkiller at the time was branded as being a “safer alternative” to use for pain treatment. They said patients were less likely to become addicted to it than Percocet or Vicodin because it was time-released. The medication was a godsend – my Dad was no longer suffering. We seemed like a typical family except, unlike all of my friends, my Dad was at home all of the time. He continued to collect WCB until he ultimately retired and was receiving a pension.

When I was in grade four things started to become more apparent that matters in my household weren’t as regular as my friends’ homes were. It was becoming evident that my Dad had become addicted to the painkiller that he had praised as a miracle drug. He was continually running out before he required a refill. To get around this my Dad had me join him at our Doctor’s office –  he always seemed to squeak into a cancellation with our family Doctor. There he would tell him that I had a sports tournament out of town and that he wouldn’t be able to pick up his refill on the date, so he required an early release. I can’t imagine how many other tricks he pulled on our doctor, but it always seemed to work; he’d happily walk out with an early release. During that summer my Dad suffered his first heart attack – they chalked it up to genetics, and soon enough he was back at home.

My Dad was continuing to abuse OxyContin and as I was growing up I was starting to realize how wrong this drug was being sold. In 2007, Purdue Pharma, the company that marketed OxyContin in the early 2000’s as a safe drug, was found guilty of all of those lies and ordered to pay $600 million for them. While the ruling was good to hear personally, my Dad had no intentions of quitting the drug. I would see him take his medications and hear a crunching sound, almost as if it was a PEZ candy being bitten down onto. It took me a while to put two and two together, but I finally realized that the sound was my Dad biting the pill apart before ingesting it to defeat the purpose of it being time released. I was worried that he would overdose and kill himself. I remember asking him not to do it, but he continued anyway. We wound up switching pharmacies because my Dad clashed with the General Manager of the old one; she didn’t want to refill his prescriptions.

While I was in junior high, I was becoming more and more frustrated with the situation at home. My Dad was never abusive; by all accounts, he was a great father, but he wasn’t the same person when he was coming down from the pills. I tried to talk to a few friends about how I was feeling, but no one understood. Everyone seemed to come from picture-perfect white picket fence homes. I started suffering severe migraines more than likely due to me being stressed out over everything. Our same Doctor sent me to talk to a therapist; I only went once. I was 14 at the time and felt I didn’t need to open up to a stranger; it was probably one of the silliest decisions I made. I really should’ve vented to someone about how I was feeling instead of bottling it all up. I was also prescribed a low dosage of Amitriptyline: a tricyclic antidepressant to combat the migraines I was dealing with. The medication helped. My Dad then suffered his second heart attack while I was in grade nine. It was amazing that he was handed another chance at life, but he failed to make any lifestyle changes.

He had always been a diabetic in denial. That, coupled with the use of OxyContin, lead to his kidneys going into full renal failure while I was in grade 11. Immediately after the diagnosis he had a fistula inserted into his arm and had to attend dialysis every second day. It seemed like only a month or so later he was back in the emergency room. This time he had suffered a stroke. He had to be admitted to the hospital because they were afraid he would aspirate if they let him go home. When he was finally released, he once again didn’t make any lifestyle changes and continued to use OxyContin. Later that winter he said he was losing the feeling in his foot. Because of circulation issues, they had to amputate his big toe on his right foot. While in high school, I had met a friend who was there for me. As much as she didn’t understand my situation, she always let me sound off when I needed to about anything.

In 2010, Canada took a stance on the drug nicknamed ‘Hillbilly Heroin’. They stopped allowing it and substituted it with OxyNEO. At the time OxyNEO seemed like a fantastic solution to the opioid crisis; unlike OxyContin, you couldn’t abuse it by smoking, injecting, crushing or snorting it. My Dad made the switch without any problems surprisingly, probably because when he ran out he knew that he could more than likely get more. This solution, however, seemed to make things worse for users on the streets; they turned to Fentanyl creating yet another crisis that is killing people at a rapid rate. It frustrates me that doctors and legislators couldn’t have predicted this could have been a possible outcome when deciding to switch to OxyNEO.

I had been a competitive golfer growing up. Thankfully my Dad being home all the time meant that I had a ride to tournaments across the province and to the course to practice whenever I wanted. Growing up I decided that I wanted to go to school in the United States and when the opportunity came, I left for Kansas in 2011 on a golf scholarship. Shortly after that my Mom also left my Dad. It was clear that he didn’t want help and things were deteriorating fast. I felt bad for my Mom—she looked like the bad guy due to all of his health history, but not everyone was aware that my Dad was severely abusing OxyContin and OxyNEO.

The summer between my two years in college I had a falling out with him. We didn’t talk for months. I got a phone call from home one day telling me that my Dad had suffered yet another heart attack and would be going for quadruple bypass surgery once he was stable. I hopped on the first plane home to see him not knowing how it would all play out this time around. Thankfully he was able to make a full recovery from surgery; however, he continued to take OxyNEO while suffering from gangrene in that same foot he had a toe amputated from years earlier. He had the idea that if he had survived everything he had faced so far while taking the narcotics he could continue to do so.

A year later before fathers day in 2014, he was taken into surgery to have his gangrene-infected foot amputated. They told him that they would need to amputate until they found good tissue. To everyone’s horror that was just below his knee. He would spend the rest of his life in the hospital, still taking OxyNEO. Later that year, shortly before Thanksgiving he flatlined. Luckily because he was outside of a hospital someone found him and resuscitated him. A few weeks after that the same thing happened inside a hospital room. Unfortunately, because of all the work they had done weeks before to bring him back, there was nothing they could do for him this time.

It was unbelievable. I was 22 and at that point figured that he could survive anything – he just kept making it through everything. While I was upset I was incredibly thankful because he could’ve died from the first heart attack when I was in grade three or the second one when I was in grade nine; not everyone gets a second chance, let alone a third or fourth one. The one thing that remained the same throughout the years was that my Dad had always used OxyNEO and OxyContin. I was annoyed by this. When I visited the same doctor from 2001, who remains my family doctor to this day, I asked him how he could keep prescribing my Dad these pills. It was evident that he was an addict, no one’s kid plays in that many sports tournaments. He told me that if he had cut my Dad off, he would’ve turned to the streets. The only thing he could keep doing was to keep giving him his medication. He felt it was the best decision for my family. At this point, I was starting to understand.

Since that appointment, I have encountered numerous people who have been cut off by their doctor cold turkey and then turn to the streets. Because OxyContin is no longer available and OxyNEO isn’t the same, most people on the streets seem to turn to Oxycodone first. Seeking the same high or pain management they turn to the deadly Fentanyl. It has taken so many people’s loved ones and lives. After hearing this same story over and over again I realize that my doctor did the right thing by enabling my Dad. He wasn’t going to give it up, and if our doctor made him, he was only going to go elsewhere for it. Remember when I said that my Dad never lifted a finger or became abusive with me? That could’ve been a different story if he had turned to getting his drugs illegally.

Months later I got around to dealing with my Dad’s possessions in my garage. While digging through bag after bag, I found a large unmarked pill bottle full of medication. My curiosity peaked. I googled the round green pill marked 80 on one side and CDN on the other. In my hands, I had thousands of dollars in street value. I had what has seemed to make people turn to Fentanyl; I had a bottle full of OxyNEO. When I turned them into the pharmacy, I had a discussion with them about how medical providers need to be more mindful than ever about what they’re prescribing their patients. We’re all aware of the history over the last 20 years with opioids and narcotics. My Dad made choices that lead to his health issues, and twenty years ago we didn’t know the dangers of OxyContin. But we need to spark a larger conversation of how a doctor should handle a patient once they’ve become addicted and need help, instead of cutting them off and making them turn elsewhere.