Who are the people that we see on our streets using fentanyl?

Jane Gurr

As a Sandy Hill resident and member of the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, I have witnessed first-hand the growing number of people in our neighbourhood who use drugs. I’ve also become aware of the increasing danger of drug contamination, which can have tragic results. I was shocked to learn that Ottawa Public Health records show a 117% increase in opioid deaths in Ottawa between 2019 and 2022.

What I haven’t seen or understood is the human face of this tragedy. Who are the people that we see on the streets; why is this happening to them; what can and should we be doing to help them? Can we do more to support the frontline workers who care for them? These questions will have me heading to the ByTowne Cinema on Saturday, October 28 at 11:00 a.m.  to watch an award-winning Canadian documentary film, Love in the Time of Fentanyl (82 mins). This is the first time the film will be shown in Ottawa; the screening is free and open to everyone.

Directed by Colin Askey and filmed in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver, Love in the Time of Fentanyl offers an unflinching view of the daily lives of drug users and the people who work to keep them alive. Released in 2022, the film follows several clients and staff of Vancouver’s Overdose Prevention Society as they struggle with addiction and the monumental challenges it presents. Remarkably, the film is still lightened by some fun.

In an interview for the May 2022 edition of POV Magazine, Askey summed up the heart of the film when he said, “I think the best way to combat something like that is to just allow an audience to walk beside, in a space that is rarely seen. Some of these sites are seen in news clips but there’s never really been a film that’s a day-in-the-life-inside-an-injection-site before.”

The value of the film lies in the trust that the people had with Colin. They were willing to allow him to capture the most vulnerable moments of their lives, including their drug use, to tell him their personal stories; in so doing, they revealed their profound humanity. In parallel, we witness harm reduction workers with few resources trying their best to prevent isolation and death among community members. The toll of the countless lives lost affects them deeply.

The screening is organized by Soul Space Ottawa, a non-profit organization within First United Church that works to support the needs of workers in the fields of street health and harm reduction, as well as in community and social services in Ottawa (

After the screening, at 1:00 p.m., Soul Space will invite everyone across the street to the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre to continue talking about the film. There will be refreshments, food, and a celebration of frontline workers. All are welcome.

I certainly welcome this opportunity to learn about living with drug use, as told by the people themselves. Perhaps it will facilitate a moment of human connection and a better understanding of what we can do to help.