COVID-19 is making the overdose crisis worse. I see it first hand.

By “Cowboy”

covid making everything worse covid making everything worse

I’m from the Greater Toronto Area and grew up with parents who were alcoholics. My old man wasn’t always around, and I ended up looking after my mom. She got sick and I ended up taking care of her—added years onto her life past what the doctors said she was expected to live all because of how I cared for her. It was hard though. I saw things like her crack my old man over the head with a skillet because he was drunk and being violent.

I started drinking when I was 12 and using drugs when I was about 16. I began drinking because my parents drank. They told me to have my first drink in the house. Then they told me not to do it, so I did it more. Then I started to steal booze. It was always accessible, so I would just drink it.

The path you travel in life often depends a lot on your youth. It really depends on how you grow up. I grew up having to protect other people who were being targeted and hurt by others. I was smaller than most people, but I couldn’t watch people get picked on, so I fought. I always fought more when I was using drugs. I used to bang 100 CCs of speed. But I wouldn’t do it when I was playing hockey or football, because I had a different focus and connections.

It was great. But I always knew not to leave a person alone. Especially if they were using acid. When you use drugs alone it’s a lot more dangerous because there’s no one there to help you if you overdose. People who use drugs take care of one another; we’re a community. I also had a lot of connections because of drug use—sex workers, bikers and others. I always knew people, and had people to go to.

“When you use drugs alone it’s a lot more dangerous because there’s no one there to help you if you overdose.”


When it comes to drug use, a common misperception is that forced treatment always works. It doesn’t. Some people don’t want to get off drugs or can’t get off them. If people aren’t ready to quit, you are talking at them, not with them. People need support and community, not being lectured too. It’s demeaning and can make how you feel about yourself even worse.

I didn’t used to worry about overdose before, but now things are cut with fentanyl and you can be dead before you hit the ground. It’s different now. It was hard growing up with a parent who drank. He would drink constantly. He would drink whenever and wherever. And you know who paid for it: my mother. She paid for all of it.

Now, I need medication for pain management; but I can’t access it, so I have to use illegal drugs instead. It’s the only way I can get relief. This is how and why people turn to the illegal market. A lot of it has to do with your age and whether or not you have worked before. Have you grown up in poverty? Have you grown up with abuse? Were you adopted? COVID-19 has also made the situation worse. The drug supply is even more toxic and people are being isolated in a room by themselves, so they drink and use drugs, and no one can help them if they overdose. Also, if you want to drink with someone else, then you have to worry about whether or not they have COVID-19 and whether it’s in the air you’re collectively breathing.

“Now, I need medication for pain management; but I can’t access it, so I have to use illegal drugs instead. It’s the only way I can get relief. This is how and why people turn to the illegal market.”

Overdoses have gone up across Canada because of COVID-19. It has impacted every single community. Things have gotten more tense with collection of debts: if you are dead, then you can’t have your debt collected so then they go after other people. These are scary times. There are so many outcomes related to overdose, not just the grief and suffering that is everywhere. Everything is interconnected.

Does anyone really give a fuck? I do. There is something wrong. People aren’t getting their mouth off the pipe, and they are dying.

It would be better if drugs were decriminalized. It would make a huge difference. Right now, people are getting hooked on pharmaceuticals and they can’t get off them. So they turn to other drugs that are illegal and cut with who knows what. Laws don’t mean a thing. People are going to use even if it is illegal.

Also, if drugs were legally regulated, I would know the supplier and what it was cut with. I would know the risks. So many lives could be saved that way and all these other issues (like paying debts and violence) wouldn’t surface. If I had advice for people, it would be: don’t give up. Always remember to not give up. There is always something coming.

About Canadian Drug Policy Coalition

Advocating for public health- and human rights-based drug policies grounded in evidence, social justice, and compassion. www.drugpolicy.ca