As reviewers dig into the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X ahead of their respective launches, we’re seeing some console teardowns and software evaluations that touch on deeper aspects of both systems. There’s been a new discovery for each platform.
First, platform disassemblers have discovered that the Xbox Series X uses a standard (if uncommon) M.2 form factor for its SSD. The XSX has an M.2 2230 SSD. In the M.2 standard, the number gives the proportions of the standard — 2230 means the drive is 22mm wide and 30mm long. You can buy consumer drives in this size, but we more commonly see it used for Wi-Fi cards and modems.
Series XIS SSD is a M.2 2230 format, inserted in a slot on the motherboard. Easy to replace.
The discovery is largely academic, since there are no >1TB SSDs in M.2 2230 on the consumer market. Even if there were, it’s not clear if there are any protections against cloning the OS off the original drive before restoring it to the replacement SSD. Microsoft, of course, doesn’t want consumers trying to upgrade their SSDs this way — that’s the entire reason the company built a user-expandable storage port — and I doubt we’ll see many people trying to upgrade the base drive if Microsoft and Seagate keep pricing competitive on their expansion drives throughout the life of the console. That’s going to mean periodically cutting price and introducing new capacities as opposed to leaving the expansion card at its current $ 220/1TB for years at a time.
It would be interesting to know if the Xbox Series X is capable of booting off expansion-card storage, or whether the OS can be cloned, though. And this does suggest that some console repairs should be faster and less expensive for end-users because swapping out an SSD is much cheaper than replacing a motherboard with soldered-on storage.
Sony Investigating External Storage Support
Meanwhile, on the Sony side of things, we’ve got a story on external storage support on the PlayStation 5. As of this writing, there is no way to copy games from the PlayStation 5 for archival purposes. This does not affect PlayStation 4 games — these can still be copied to, and played from, external storage — but it does impact all next-gen titles.
Modern game download speeds are large enough relative to storage capacities and broadband sizes that a fair number of gamers use an external HDD for backup. Sony didn’t implement support for this feature before it launched the console, but has updated its FAQ to note that “Explorations for allowing players to store (but not play) PS5 games on a USB drive in a future update are underway.” This happened shortly after Eurogamer published an article criticizing Sony’s storage policy on this issue, so the company is clearly paying attention. Given this, I’d like to point out that Sony also blocks local save game backups now, and that you can only use cloud backups if you pay for PlayStation Plus.
Forcing gamers to pay to back up saved games is profoundly anti-consumer and anti-gamer. While Sony is exploring the idea for storing PS5 games on local storage, it ought to check and see if saved games might just be possible, too. Hopefully, we’ll see more flexibility implemented in a post-launch update.
Microsoft announced today that it would kill its Mixer streaming service and transition users to Facebook Gaming. The announcement both is and isn’t a surprise. On the one hand, it’s been rumored that Microsoft might make a move with Mixer and shake things up in the process. On the other, Microsoft has spent a tremendous amount of time and money building Mixer in the first place — and integrating it as the automatic streaming solution for the Xbox One.
When Microsoft bought Mixer (formerly Beam) in 2016, it explicitly set about integrating streaming as a push-button feature. It’s still possible to configure other alternatives, like Twitch, but there’s currently no way to duplicate the exact functionality Microsoft offers you with Mixer integration. If you’ve purchased Embers or Sparks, you can award them to your favorite Mixers through the month of June (they’ll receive double credit), but after June 30 you won’t be able to buy them. You’ll get an Xbox Gift Card of “similar value,” automatically applied to your Microsoft account, but only have until September 30 to spend the money.
This is an odd deal. Facebook Gaming has no method of directly streaming from consoles. Microsoft refers to plans to bring that feature out in the future but had nothing ready for this announcement. This about-face also comes less than a year after Microsoft announced it had signed Tyler “Ninja” Blevins to a multi-year Mixer contract — and Blevins wasn’t the only streamer who moved to the platform.
We didn’t know this was coming. We found out right before you.
The sudden announcement caught even Mixer staff off-guard. Tera Wake, who worked at Mixer and was chairing an accessibility committee that had “barely gotten started,” announced that staff had found out about the project shutdown right before the announcement was made public. Mixer has had some noted morale problems, as reported by OnMSFT, but there was still no sign the service was being canceled.
Polygon reports that in exchange, Microsoft is getting something it wants — Project xCloud support on Facebook Gaming. Again, this is something of an odd deal. Why would Microsoft need to tap Facebook’s gaming leverage when it has so many methods of reaching its own customers directly?
My guess is that this is about extending xCloud to a group of users who might not encounter the service another way. Microsoft doesn’t need Facebook to reach Xbox gamers, but it could use Facebook’s social reach to try and appeal to people who don’t fit the standard core gaming demographic. That makes sense, as far as it goes, but Microsoft’s entire business approach to gaming is that it attempts to cater to what I’d call the “core gaming demographic.” The idea of reaching people over Facebook with the appeal of games they might not have considered seems like the sort of thing that would play more to Nintendo’s strengths, with family-friendly titles like Animal Crossing (if, of course, Nintendo was interested in that kind of cloud gaming service).
Microsoft is spinning this idea as a way to help its Mixers find larger audiences. Mixer, unlike Facebook, was known for robust moderation tools and cultivating non-toxic fan communities. Facebook is, shall we say, not known for these things.
It’s not clear if anyone actually benefits from this. Mixer isn’t a big enough platform to make Facebook Gaming look appealing. Facebook Gaming still has the word “Facebook” in it, which makes it a non-starter. Microsoft gets to put xCloud on Facebook Gaming, but whether it’ll actually provide any kind of meaningful market for the product is another question entirely. Oh — and it’s not clear how content creators will themselves be impacted, though Microsoft has made some mouth noises about trying to help them establish themselves on equivalent terms with Zuck and Co.
As of now, it’s likely the Xbox Series X will either feature streaming integration with a service like Twitch or will simply allow users to set their own service without a preset default. The feature has become too important to imagine consoles leaving it off altogether.
The continued spread of coronavirus has prompted many people to spend more time indoors, and what can one do while locked away from the world? If you said “play video games,” a lot of people agree with you. Steam reports this past weekend broke the record for active users at just a bit over 20 million.
Steam regularly breaks its own player records — every few months or once a year the service’s peak usage will inch upward just a bit more. Although, there’s usually something happening in the gaming world to precipitate the new milestone like a new game or one of Steam’s major sale events. This time, nothing like that was happening on Steam’s end.
According to Steam, the 24-hour peak over the weekend set a record with 20,313,451 active users on the afternoon of March 15th. There were also nearly 6.4 million people playing a game at that time. So, the larger of those numbers doesn’t include people in a game — they could be chatting, browsing the store, or installing games. That number is lower than the record active players from January 1, 2018, when 7.2 million people were gaming. The higher number of non-gaming active users might have been thanks to people hunting for something to pass the time over the coming weeks.
Steam’s active user count naturally rises and falls, but it rose a little higher than it ever has before over the weekend.
Unsurprisingly, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive was the most popular title on the service, hitting 1,024,845 concurrent players. Shooter PUBG managed 515,050 players, and Dota 2 maxed out at 701,632. This might just be the start. Schools around the country are beginning to close, with many states predicting they won’t open again until the fall. That could mean lots of kids spending time on Fortnite during the day. Epic might start gloating about its player numbers any day now.
It’s quite likely that the jump in gaming happened because everyone had to bail on their weekend plans. Health authorities have taken to promoting “social distancing” in hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19. As the epidemic has continued to unfold, we’re learning that many younger people can become infected with the virus and not know it. When they go into public spaces, they can spread the infection to vulnerable populations like the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
Facebook said on Wednesday it had suspended three networks of Russian accounts that attempted to interfere in the domestic politics of eight African countries and were tied to a Russian businessman accused of meddling in past U.S. elections.
The campaigns targeted people in Madagascar, Central African Republic, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Sudan and Libya, Facebook said. They used almost 200 fake and compromised accounts to reach more than one million followers in the eight African countries.
All the networks were connected to “entities associated with Russian financier Yevgeny Prigozhin,” Facebook said. Prigozhin has previously denied wrongdoing. His lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the latest Facebook accusations involving African countries.
Prigozhin has been indicted by U.S. special prosecutor Robert Mueller as a principal figure behind an alleged Russian “troll farm” accused of trying to sway elections in the United States with covert social media campaigns.
In some of the African countries, the Russian-run networks worked with local citizens to better disguise their origins and target Internet users, said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cyber security policy.
“There’s sort of a joining of forces, if you will, between local actors and actors from Russia,” he told Reuters. “It appears that the local actors who are involved know who is behind the operation.”
Facebook declined to identify which local people or organizations had worked with the accounts or which companies it had connected to the activity and Prigozhin, a catering tycoon nicknamed “Putin’s chef” because of banquets he has organized for the Russian leader.
Ties to Wagner Group alleged
But researchers at Stanford University who worked with Facebook on its investigation said the companies included the Wagner Group — a firm of military contractors that sources have previously told Reuters has carried out clandestine combat missions on the Kremlin’s behalf in Ukraine and Syria.
Reuters reported last year that the group had expanded into economic and diplomatic work in countries including the Central African Republic as part of a push by Russia to increase its influence in Africa.
Russian authorities deny that Wagner contractors carry out their orders and Moscow has repeatedly rejected Western allegations of election meddling. The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Wagner has no public profile and has never commented about its activities. Prigozhin has denied links to Wagner.
Facebook, Twitter and Google have vowed to step up the fight against political manipulation of their platforms after facing fierce criticism for failing to counter alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
Despite the increased scrutiny, U.S. officials have repeatedly warned of the threat posed by Russia and other countries who they say may still attempt to sway the result of next year’s presidential contest.
The campaigns shut down for meddling in Africa had posted about local news and geopolitical issues, as well as sharing content from Russian and local state-controlled media, Facebook said.
Some of the accounts were active as far back as 2014.
They also spent money on advertising, although Facebook estimated the total at less than $ 90,000 US. The paid social media advertising markets in many African countries are still small.
Researchers at the Stanford Internet Observatory, the research lab at Stanford University, said the networks used a variety of techniques across the different African countries.
Some accounts supported a specific party or candidate, they said, while others backed multiple figures. In other cases, the pages appeared geared towards building support for Wagner activities or Russian deals for natural resources.
In Sudan, said Observatory Research Scholar Shelby Grossman, “the tone has been generally supportive of the government, but not transparently so. It does suggest the strategy is very different across countries.”
The activity marks a shift from the previous alleged efforts by the Internet Research Agency to target U.S. voters, said Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former security chief and now head of the Stanford Internet Observatory.
The “franchise” model of working with local people in target countries makes the activity more difficult to detect, he said, and may have been developed to circumvent a move by Facebook to publish the locations of administrators of some political accounts.
The action over the African countries was Facebook’s second move against groups it linked to Prigozhin in a week. Last week, Facebook said it had suspended a network of 50 Instagram accounts it linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency, an organization U.S. prosecutors say was funded by Prigozhin to attempt to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential vote.
Putin has been looking to strengthen economic ties and increase exports of military equipment and weapons to the continent, last week hosting dozens of African leaders at a summit in Sochi.
Lying inside a scanner, the patient watched as pictures appeared one by one: A bicycle. A cupcake. Heroin. Outside, researchers tracked her brain’s reactions to the surprise sight of the drug she’d fought to kick.
U.S. government scientists are starting to peek into the brains of people caught in the opioid epidemic, to see if medicines proven to treat addiction, like methadone, do more than ease the cravings and withdrawal. Do they also heal a brain damaged by addiction? And which one works best for which patient?
They’re fundamental questions considering that far too few of the 2 million opioid users who need anti-addiction medicine actually receive it.
One reason: “People say you’re just changing one drug for another,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, who is leading that first-of-its-kind study. “The brain responds differently to these medications than to heroin. It’s not the same.”
Science has made clear that three medicines — methadone, buprenorphine and extended-release naltrexone — can effectively treat what specialists prefer to call opioid use disorder. Patients who stick with methadone or buprenorphine in particular cut their chances of death in half, according to a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that explored how to overcome barriers to that care.
Opioid addiction changes the brain in ways that even when people quit can leave them vulnerable to relapse, changes that researchers believe lessen with long-term abstinence.
Volkow’s theory: Medication-based treatment will help those damaged neural networks start getting back to normal faster than going it alone. To prove it, she’ll need to compare brain scans from study participants like the woman who quit heroin thanks to methadone with active heroin users and people who are in earlier stages of treatment.
We take for granted that people think about the future. Not when you’re addicted.– Dr. Nora Volkow
“Can we completely recover? I do not know that,” Volkow said. But with the medications, “you’re creating stability” in the brain, she said. And that helps recondition it to respond to everyday pleasures again.
The challenge now is finding enough people willing, and healthy enough, to have their brains scanned for science at the same time they’re struggling to quit.
Addiction is a brain disease, “not a choice, not a personality flaw, not a moral failing,” said Dr. Jody Glance, an addiction specialist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who hopes NIDA’s brain scans will help overcome some of the barriers and improve the public health response to the opioid crisis.
Not offering the medicines to someone who needs them “is like not offering insulin to someone with diabetes,” she said.
How opioids change the brain
When you sense something pleasurable — a special song, the touch of a loved one, a food like Volkow’s favourite chocolate — the brain releases a natural chemical called dopamine that essentially trains the body to remember, “I liked that, let’s do it again.”
That’s the brain’s reward system, and opioids can hijack it by triggering a surge of dopamine larger than nature ever could. Repeated opioid use overloads circuits in multiple brain regions, including those involved with learning and memory, emotion, judgment and self-control. At the same time, the brain gradually releases less dopamine in response to other things the person once found pleasurable. Eventually they seek more of the drug not to get high, but to avoid constantly feeling low.
Volkow aims to test 80 people, a mix of untreated heroin users and patients using different medication-based treatments, inside brain scanners at the National Institutes of Health’s research hospital. Her team is measuring differences in the brain’s ability to release dopamine as treatment progresses, and how the functioning of other neural networks changes in response as study participants do various tasks.
For example, does a patient’s brain remain fixated on “cues” related to drug use — like seeing a picture of heroin — or start reacting again to normal stimuli like the sight of a cupcake?
Another test: Ask if a patient would take an offer of $ 50 US now, or $ 100 if they could wait a week, checking how much motivation and self-control they can muster.
“You need to be able to inhibit the urge to get something” to recover, Volkow noted. “We take for granted that people think about the future. Not when you’re addicted.”
Like in any disease, each medication may work better in certain people — because not everyone’s brain circuitry reacts exactly the same way to opioid abuse — but that hasn’t been studied. Volkow suspects buprenorphine will improve mood and emotional responses to addiction better than methadone, for instance, because of subtle differences in how each medicine works. She especially wants to test people who relapse, to try to spot any treatment differences.
Methadone and buprenorphine are weak opioids, the reason for the misperception that they substitute one addiction for another. In slightly different ways, they stimulate the dopamine system more mildly than other opioids, levelling out the jolts so there’s no high and less craving. People may use them for years. Naltrexone, in contrast, blocks any opioid effects.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
It is 9 a.m. on a Wednesday and people are lined up at Dr. Todd Young's addictions clinic in Marystown, N.L., even before he arrives.
Shane Murphy is one of Young's first patients in this town of about 5,000 people. When he became severely addicted to opiates prescribed for dental pain, he had trouble getting help.
Murphy finally got an appointment at a clinic in St. John's, 300 kilometres away, but could not afford to make the trip several times a month, often in treacherous winter conditions.
"You're dealing with a person who is falling apart because of what the addiction is doing to them," Murphy says. "If they've got to fight for help, what are they going to do? Go back to the pill bottle. That's easier."
Young's new local clinic has been a lifeline, Murphy says. "It's in my own hometown. No one else ever offered this."
Shane Murphy gets treatment for opioid addiction at Dr. Todd Young's satellite clinic in Marystown. (CBC)
Murphy's predicament is not unusual in Newfoundland and Labrador. To avail of treatment, people often have to travel long distances to clinics in larger centres such as St. John's or Corner Brook.
Even after they get an appointment, the wait list can be a year or more before they're seen.
Young is changing that by travelling regularly to smaller communities and offering local clinics that focus on starting treatment as quickly as possible. He uses a combination of telemedicine and on-site clinic visits to treat his 525 patients.
"When someone who has a substance use disorder is asking for help, they need to be getting easy access to that help in days — not weeks, not months," Young says.
"We've tried to simplify access. We've got a rapid access program where patients from the time of referral … can be started on treatment within five days."
In addition to the family practice that he started in his hometown of Springdale several years ago, over the past year the doctor has expanded his opiate addiction services to include monthly clinics in Clarenville, Harbour Breton, Marystown, Pasadena, St. Anthony, Stephenville, and St. John's.
Deaths and hospitalizations due to opiate poisoning are on the rise in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Even though doctors in this province write more opiate prescriptions per capita than in any other province in Canada, many are unwilling to treat the resulting addictions.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Health Information reports that the number of opioid-related deaths in the province almost doubled from 18 in 2016 to 33 in 2017.
Hospitalizations involving opioid poisoning increased from 57 to 84 over the same time period.
"It's amazing, actually — [in] every nook and cranny, every small town, people are exposed to opiates," Young says.
Marystown is one of seven clinics that Young recently opened on the island in order to meet the demand for opiate addiction treatment, primarily in rural areas where the need has increased in recent years.
"Since Dr. Young came in the picture, for any addict who wants help there's no barriers now," Murphy says.
'That's someone's son or daughter. They deserve to be respected."– Dr. Todd Young
But travelling long distances to his new satellite clinics in far-flung communities was taking away too much time with patients. So Young recently bought a Piper Navajo six-seater plane to help him and his team get to patients faster.
That team now includes an addictions counsellor and a nurse, as well as a pilot.
"When I did the math, it made sense. To drive to Marystown today, for example, would have been at least seven hours, weather permitting," Young says.
'I got my life back on track'
Kimberley Boland's main reason for getting clean was to be a good mother to her four-year-old son. She does not want him to remember her as an addict, but as someone who got help for her addiction. (Kimberley Boland)
Kimberley Boland, 25, is among the 44 patients Young sees today in Marystown. Boland had been addicted to opioids and other drugs since she was 15.
"Just being around friends, they'd say, 'Try this, try that' … and then I just couldn't get away from it.
"It was a very hard road, to the point that I didn't want to live any more," Boland says.
I didn't want to live any more.– Kimberley Boland , 25.
She tried to get treatment several times, but the lack of services near her hometown meant every attempt ended in failure. Then she met Young.
"When I first seen him, I started crying, and he said, 'Don't go getting discouraged, because everything will be OK.' And nobody says that to you when it comes to addiction. Nobody. But he did, and it makes a huge difference," Boland says.
Boland's impetus for finally kicking her addiction was her four-year-old son. She lost custody of him when he was six months old, but getting treatment means she is well enough to be a full-time mom.
"I got him back now. I got my life back on track … I'm doing school now, like, I got my life back, my friends, my family."
Kimberley Boland, 25, says addicts are looked down upon in the health care system. She made several attempts to get well, but nothing worked until the Marystown, N.L., satellite clinic opened to treat people with addictions the local community. 0:26
A matter of respect
Young's reason for wanting to treat people with addiction is simple.
"These are people, good people, and they deserve to have their disease treated just like anybody else," says Young, whose philosophy includes removing stigma from addictions treatment.
"If I was to say, 'Sorry, I don't take diabetics,' people would have a problem with that. And they should have a problem with that."
All of his patients are someone's son or daughter who got off track and are looking for a way to restart their lives, he adds.
"I'm not going to be able to help them to the full extent that I can do so if they don't feel comfortable and respected."
Nicole Skinner, 22, is another of his patients. She became addicted to opiates when she was just 15.
Nicole Skinner credits Dr. Todd Young's clinic for helping her turn her life around. Skinner was put on a provincial waiting list for addictions treatment that was a year-and-a-half long. She got an appointment with Young's clinic in two days. (Nicole Skinner)
When she sought help from one of the province's big clinics a couple of years ago, Skinner was put on a waiting list of about a year-and-a-half. She decided to try Young's clinic in Springfield and was given an appointment in two days.
Skinner has now been off drugs for two years, she says.
"It completely changed my life, this program."
She is an animal lover, and Skinner and her partner have set up a cat rescue shelter in Marystown, where she is a patient at Young's satellite clinic.
"I can't even think about going back to the way it was before … I only encourage people to get help and to try and make their lives better, because it [life as an addict] is no way to live at all."
Nicole Skinner was put on a wait list of a year and a half to get treatment for her addiction through Newfoundland and Labrador's regular health system, but got an appointment with Dr. Todd Young at his satellite clinic in two days. She's now been clean for two years. 0:23
Testing enhances patient accountability
Young's approach to treating drug addiction also means holding patients accountable.
He has implemented on-the-spot urinalysis, which tests for oxycontin, cocaine, amphetamines, barbiturates, and other drugs. It also tests for addiction medications — methadone and suboxone.
Tests sent to a laboratory can take three to four weeks. But with on-the-spot testing, Young says he can tailor the patient's treatment to where they are in their recovery on the day he sees them.
"A lot can happen in four weeks."
Urinalysis tests with on-the-spot results mean Dr. Young does not have to wait for weeks for lab reports. Strips built into the cup test to see if patients are taking amphetamines, benzodiazepines, cocaine, fentanyl, methadone, morphine, oxycontin, and suboxone. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC News)
By using this system, Young knows at each appointment whether his patients have used drugs they should not be using, and whether they are taking their addiction medication.
Patients feel proud when their test proves they are sticking to the program, Young adds.
"They're honest people, because they've gone through a time where they've lived a lie and they're tired of that, and they enjoy the honesty."
When he began treating addictions, Young had no idea about the scope of opiate addictions in Newfoundland and Labrador. And the difficulty some people had finding medical help.
In addition to doctors who refuse to treat patients addicted to drugs, some pharmacists refuse to dispense methadone and suboxone.
Shane Murphy was one of Dr. Young's first patients when the satellite opioid addiction clinic opened in Marystown. Murphy says the treatment he gets here saved his life. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC News)
Many pharmacists in the towns where he has set up clinics have come on board, but in the health care system overall there is much room for improvement, Young says.
"My vision would be that every physician, every family physician in particular, and every nurse practitioner … would be prescribing, that they would all be part of the solution for patients who have substance abuse disorder."
Young has heard the criticism in some quarters that treating people with addictions is a waste of money. He argues that getting people healthy benefits everyone in society.
"It does save us all money in the end, and lives," he says.
"What costs taxpayers is crime, is incarceration, is secondary disease … those are significant costs to our system."
Some people say treating opioid addictions is a waste of money, but Dr. Todd Young, who flies to communities in Newfoundland and Labrador to see patients who don't have a full-time local clinic, believes everyone benefits when people get treatment. 0:55
Treating addiction goes beyond the patient, it extends to their family, their support system and their community, he adds.
"That's someone's son or daughter. They deserve to be respected," Young says.
"Everybody has a story, and I think as you go through life yourself you kind of take a few knocks sometimes, and with those you appreciate the battles that other people have."
It completely saved my life, this program.– Nicole Skinner, patient
Young has already set his sights on starting two more addictions clinics in Labrador in the coming months.
For his part, Shane Murphy doubts that he would be alive today without the treatment he is getting from Young.
"He will see to it that you get your life back on track if you are wanting to help yourself … Dr. Young has helped me so much, and I'm going to continue to see him until my life is where I want it to be."
Shane Murphy used to have to travel 300 kilometres to see a doctor in St. John's. He credits having access to an addiction clinic in this hometown with helping him kick his drug problem. 0:23
More from CBC News
Watch The National's story about Dr. Todd Young:
Addicts outside major cities face the same challenges and dangers, but the same resources aren’t available. Newfoundland’s Dr. Todd Young brings treatments options to those in rural communities who need it. 6:59
Legalizing cannabis doesn't seem to have much changed how many people use the drug, according to figures released by Statistics Canada.
The Statistics Canada figures released Thursday shows about 4.6 million people, or 15 per cent of Canadians over age 15, reported using cannabis in the previous three months.
Nearly half of Canadians who reported using cannabis said they did so for non-medical reasons, while one-quarter said they used it for medicinal purposes.
The national cannabis survey also found non-medical cannabis users were less likely to buy it legally, with only 26 per cent of them saying they bought the drug from authorized retailers or online producers.
Forty-two per cent of non-medical users said they obtained cannabis illegally, such as through drug dealers, compassion clubs, unlicensed dispensaries or storefronts, and unlicensed websites, the survey said.
The federal government legalized the use and sale of cannabis on Oct. 17, arguing it would push out the illicit drug trade and maintain public safety.
Legal versus black-market price
Statistics Canada has kept a close eye on use, prices and sales — including using some unorthodox sampling methods, such as asking people to report the prices they pay for illegal marijuana — to get a better picture of cannabis across the country.
A month ago, the agency reported the average price of a legal gram of medical or non-medical weed during the fourth quarter last year was $ 9.70, compared to the black-market price of $ 6.51.
On Thursday, Statistics Canada said nearly a third of consumers reported they didn't spend anything on the marijuana they consumed. About eight per cent said they spent more than $ 500, or about $ 40 a week, which Statistics Canada said was consistent with the spending pattern in the previous quarter.
Consumers told the statistics agency that first and foremost, they looked at the quality and safety of cannabis when deciding where to purchase it. Price and accessibility were second and third on the list.
Demand has been high for the legal product since Oct. 17, and Statistics Canada's data suggest it could only increase.
The agency said nearly one in five Canadians, or 19 per cent, reported plans to use cannabis in the following three months — a higher figure than those who reported current use.
Carissa Sutherland's history with drugs is a lot like many others in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
The 29-year-old started about 10 years ago with morphine and hydromorphone pills marketed under the brand name Dilaudid or "Dilly" as it's known on the street.
"I kind of just progressed more and more, and then I couldn't get Dillies very much — or they were more expensive than heroin, so that I ended up just doing heroin," said Sutherland, who soon added methamphetamine to the mix.
For her, an especially low point came when she overdosed, alone, in a Wendy's bathroom about two years ago. Luckily, someone found her, and her life was saved.
Portland Hotel Society peer support worker Carissa Sutherland hopes to get into the new 'safe supply' program, which will distribute free injectable opioids to drug users. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)
Now, a "safe supply" program for people in Sutherland's situation is launching in the neighbourhood.
Operated by the Portland Hotel Society (PHS) out of its Molson Overdose Prevention Site (OPS), the pilot program will distribute free Dilaudid pills for 50 patients.
The hydromorphone pills, which are manufactured to be taken orally, will be crushed up and rendered as an injectable drug, just like heroin. It's the first time in Canada that opioids will be prescribed in this way and an idea that came directly from the street.
According to Coco Culbertson, who is overseeing the program for PHS, the dosage will be prescribed by a physician, and participants will be able to get up to five doses per day, to be injected under the supervision of PHS staff and volunteers.
Culbertson said the pills, which are worth about 36 cents when bought legally, cost drug users $ 20 – $ 30 on the street. According to Sutherland, a user on the street can make up to four or five pick ups per day to support a habit, sometimes buying multiple pills each time.
"We're really looking for our "hard target" folks that are experiencing repeated overdose and that are subject to a toxic drug supply on the street," said Culbertson, who added that there's already a list of about 75 people for the program, which starts on Tuesday.
"We are hoping that this program, in its simplicity, allows us to scale up as needed, and that a program like this can be easily replicated in other areas in other regions," she said.
Just a couple blocks away at the Crosstown Clinic, there's another injectable opioid treatment program that's been operating for several years.
There, under the management of Dr. Scott MacDonald, about 130 patients are administered up to three daily, scheduled doses of either prescription heroin or hydromorphone.
Dr. Scott MacDonald with the Crosstown Clinic looks forward to seeing the results of the new 'safe supply' PHS pilot program but says his clinic could support many more patients if the funding was there. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)
"This is safe. It's effective. It's cost effective. It reduces mortality, reduces crime — both violent crime and property crime — and it reduces the burden on taxpayers," said MacDonald, who believes the facility's pharmacy could distribute injectable doses for as many as 800 people across the region.
When asked what he thinks of PHS's new approach to prescribing opioids to neighbourhood drug users, with a little less structure than Crosstown's system, MacDonald said that it's a worthwhile scientific study to undertake, and he's looking forward to seeing the results.
Both programs include access to a wide variety of other social and health services.
Sutherland's life has taken a dramatic turn for the better since her overdose. She's still a regular drug user, but for the past year and a half, she's been injecting under supervision at Molson OPS.
She quickly started volunteering there and now Sutherland's on the payroll as a peer support worker. She's taken part in reversing dozens of potentially fatal overdoses. She's also found housing through PHS.
But despite the more stable life, the drugs have still put her in risky situations. Sutherland is hoping that will disappear if she's accepted in the new 'safe supply' program.
"I'm hoping that once I get on the Dilly program, I won't have to do that — I won't have to go boost from stores — or steal from stores or sell things to get money to get drugs," she said.
For her, she says, safe supply doesn't just mean drugs that won't contain unknown amounts of deadly fentanyl, it also means a drug supply that leads to a much safer lifestyle.
On Friday, the 34-year-old reality star shared a black-and-white photo of herself with her mom, Kris Jenner, expressing how much she loves her and thanking her for raising “multiple mini queens.”
“♚ You are a Queen who has raised multiple mini Queens still trying to be as strong and fabulous as you are!” Khloe wrote. “I will love you more and more every day until the end of time.”
A couple followers, however, called out Khloe for “forgetting” about her brother and never mentioning him. “It’s a shame Rob Kardashian is a member of the family and he is NEVER mentioned,” one Instagram user wrote on her post.
Khloe did not let the comment go unnoticed, replying that people shouldn’t voice their opinion if they “truly aren’t informed on our family.”
“My brother is my entire world! He is definitely a king,” she wrote. “It is a shame that you can’t [sic] respect us for respecting his privacy. You should not comment if you truly aren’t informed on our family.”
Additionally, another follower in a friendlier tone, also wrote, “Don’t forget about Rob. She’s raising a king too.”
Khloe replied, “He has always been a king since the minute he was born! My mom and my dad did an amazing job with him. He is my <3.”
It was just a couple of weeks ago that Khloe stayed with her younger brother during the raging Southern California fires when she and her daughter, True, were forced to evacuate.
While Rob has remained out of the spotlight, the 31-year-old Kardashian has “turned his life around,” a source told ET last week. After being told his weight gain could eventually threaten his life, he’s been working with a trainer and feeling better than ever.
“Rob has struggled nonstop for years with his weight and he finally seems to have turned his life around,” the source shared. “Lately Rob’s friends have been talking about how proud they are of him because he made his health a priority.”
“He was warned that if he didn’t lose weight, it could eventually become life or death, but since then he lost pounds and feels so much better,” the source continued. “He works out regularly with a trainer and that has made a difference in his shape. He really is beginning to look like the old Rob.”