Every Tuesday afternoon at 4:45 p.m., Melody Cooper’s siblings and mother meet for bingo at Our Lady of Sorrows, a Catholic school in East Vancouver. Cooper, 44, smiled and spoke warmly of the tradition. But she said her heroin addiction—something she’d struggled with for 17 years—has kept her far too busy to join them.
“They’ve always gone together, but I haven’t,” Cooper recounted from a coffee shop in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. “Stress has always been a struggle. Trying to get my next fix, wondering where I’m going to get it from. Lots of worries. Very little sleep.”
When fentanyl emerged as a problem in British Columbia in 2013, the dangerous synthetic opioid gradually replaced heroin on the streets of the Downtown Eastside, widely known as ground zero for the opioid crisis in Canada. Across the province, overdose deaths soared: In 2013, there were 333 fatal overdoses, 15 percent involving fentanyl. In 2018, there were 1,514, and the number involving fentanyl had risen to 87 percent.
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