Meth Addiction, Crystal Methamphetamine

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Meth memories horrify: Former addict lived fast until she crashed

Dressed in a strappy white top snug against her tall, supermodel- thin frame, Lisa turned heads as she made her customary and glamourous post-midnight entrance into one of Calgary's after-hours dance clubs.

At least she thinks they did -- she was on crystal meth at the time.

"I thought I was living the life because I always had guys on both arms," said the 18-year-old.

Fuelled by free doses of meth, Lisa could stay awake from Friday night until Sunday afternoon, enjoying a non-stop weekend of dancing.

Police say crystal meth is readily available in Calgary and, as Lisa experienced here and in Edmonton, it's astonishingly free for teenage girls.

"If I looked anywhere else, there were girls just like me," said Lisa, who was 15 when she started using meth in Edmonton and then in Calgary.

While other teenagers were having sleepovers and splurging at suburban shopping malls, Lisa was spending her weekends binging on the toxic home-cooked drug in the company of pimps, addicts and organized criminals.

Now sober and clean after many months at the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre, Lisa's narrow escape from the world she once thought glamorous is inspiring her to speak candidly about the grimy life of a teenage crystal meth user.

The overnight social scene draws a crush of young people liberated from the rules of convention -- dancing past dawn to DJs and some sneaking off to the bathroom for a quick bump, or snort, of meth, she says.

Between midnight and daylight, crystal meth dealers and users fall in step with ease.

Knowing her usual light-coloured clothing was alluringly aglow under danceclub black lights, the early-morning hours Lisa spent with older men and new friends slipped past like the sunrise.

"I remember looking at my watch and saying, whoa, eight hours just flew by."

Meeting people was easy, especially older guys. Scoring other common club drugs, including Special K (ketamine), ecstasy, and even GHB -- the so-called date-rape drug -- was effortless.

"They ask if you want to go to the bathroom to get high," she said.

And so it began -- but Lisa's free ride ended when the older men who were treating her to hits of drugs for months started demanding payment through money or sex.

Sell drugs or be sold. Her choice.

As a runaway from a good family who left school in Grade 7 with her only goal to stay high, Lisa quickly learned the pimps from the players. A talented con, she says she figured out how to keep scoring without prostitution -- she became best friends with a dealer and used her for drugs.

Eventually, she graduated to drug running and dealing small amounts, even jacking customers by getting the $80 up front and sneaking out the back.

At her worst, with no money and no score, she was begging for a hit.

"I was a fiend. I would just beg people, 'Please give me a hoot.' "

At the height of her addiction, Lisa remembers smoking two grams of meth, $160 worth, each day. "I had a pipe in my mouth every minute of the day."

Unable to sleep or eat, the five-foot-10 teen became grotesquely skinny at 98 pounds.

"It was just horrible," she said, describing the flop house she lived in, sometimes so high she was oblivious to the stream of people coming and going.

The household chemicals used to cook the drug -- drain cleaner, paint thinner, solvent and cold medicine -- began leaking out of her small body.

She remembers hopping into the shower a few times a day on the way down from a high. Her skin always felt like the bottom of a well- used boot.

"I really hated myself. I kept using it to try and take away those feelings."

She kept in touch with her parents, who lived outside Calgary, through brief, one-sentence telephone calls.

"I'd say 'I'm still alive,' and hold the phone away from my ear so I didn't have to hear my mom's voice."

Fifteen months ago, after Lisa hit bottom, her mother drove her to AARC, where she was committed to months of treatment.

Now, for the first time since Grade 7, she has true friends, mostly from rehab.

Bravely, she's making significant strides toward regaining control over her life by going to school and applying for jobs.

"I don't think there's anybody out there who can try it once and not get hooked," she said.
One man's dance with meth, crystal methamphetamine, addiction

A crisp winter wind is blowing as Joel Smith tucks one leg over the bench of a picnic table.

Hunkered down in a grey hoodie and jeans, a black cap snugged down over his bleach-blond hair, he talks excitedly about moving into his own apartment. His hazel eyes crinkle at the corners as he describes furniture and the friend who will soon be his room mate.

Moving will be a milestone for Joel, a tangible sign that he has come far -- physically and mentally -- from this time last year, when he sat in a cramped and dirty bachelor suite waiting for his dealer to come.

The first time Joel smoked crystal meth he didn't like it. He'd already developed a habit for crack, pot and alcohol and was disappointed in the meth high.

But the drug kept showing up at parties and friends' houses so Joel tried it again.

And again.

Eventually it proved to be a better distraction than crack.

"I was hurting and meth opened that up and made it like I didn't care. Everything was good," said Joel, now 27.

"You don't want sleep. You hate sleep, because you want to be high, you want to do things. You have so many things to do."

Joel went through a state meth addicts call "teching out" -- he fixed things, compulsively. He repaired circuit boards, took small electronics apart then put them back together. He would fix up old motorcycles and sell them to drug dealers for more meth. He would play his guitar for hours, sometimes days straight.

But about a year into the addiction, his mania faded.

"When I woke up one day I had no energy. My muscles ached, my arms and legs. I couldn't move. I couldn't even get to the bathroom. That's when I realized, holy shit, I need this stuff. I need it to live. I did meth every waking hour."

For a year and a half he lived for meth, eventually switching to shooting the drug, despite a "terror" of needles. But the good feeling of his early highs was replaced with something dark.

"I started to feel evil, hopeless, paranoid, scared."

His compulsive behaviour turned inward and became manic scratching at his skin, driven by the toxins coursing though him.

"Bugs, totally, I just kept thinking there're bugs coming out of my skin and it's just the chemicals coming out of your skin."

When he checked in for detox he weighed just 150 pounds.

"I looked bad. My cheeks were sunken in and I even had a couple of those sores you get."

He detoxed at Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria.

"I was so delusional," he recalls. "I hadn't had seven days clean in like two years. It was unbelievable."

He went to a residential treatment program in Nanaimo then moved into a house run by the John Howard Society, where he lives now. In a month he will move out on his own for the first time since beating the drugs eight months ago.

"I'm excited because it is a sense of myself. I get to move on. I feel it inside me that I want this life."

On the back of Joel's leg is a reminder of the life he used to lead, a small, round scar from one of his meth bugs.

Otherwise he shows no trace of the addict. Pale freckles are scattered across his cheeks and his six-foot frame is carrying a healthy 180 pounds.

He's now studying at Malaspina University College, earning his high school diploma with an eye to further training as a writer.

Words, he says, give him another outlet for long-buried emotions that the meth played on.

"I don't need it anymore because I've got strength in myself, a sense of self."
The crystal meth scourge, methamphetamine

Kerra could hardly get the words out.

"For the past two years, my daughter has had an addiction to crystal meth," said the tearful mom, speaking Wednesday at the launch of the Crystal Meth Victoria Society. "She's almost 16."

Kerra, who asked that her full name not be used, was among the parents of addicts who spoke to a crowd of close to 200 at the unveiling of the grassroots community group.

Schools, municipal and provincial governments, social agencies and police departments were represented in the audience at the Marriott Hotel, showing a desire to deal with a highly addictive, potentially deadly drug that has hit the region like a wave -- especially over the past year.

Another parent, struggling to keep her emotions in check, said that having crystal meth affect her family was something she never expected.

"To find out that your child is caught in the grip of this drug is a terrible thing. It's a journey that no parent should have to take."

The creation of the Crystal Meth Victoria Society comes at a time that use of the highly addictive methamphetamine is skyrocketing in the capital region. The number of young people using the Vancouver Island Youth Detox Centre and reporting crystal meth as their main drug went from 11 per cent in 2000-01 to 61 per cent in 2003-04.

Spearheading the crystal meth group are people like Mark McLaughlin, who has a family member affected by crystal meth use and addiction. Trying to find solutions left him and his wife "wracked with anxiety and desperately looking for help," he said.

The couple became aware of a pressing need for information and outreach. That eventually led to the development of the Crystal Meth Victoria Society, along with a website aimed at guiding people to available resources.

"We believe that the city and municipalities of Greater Victoria can pull together to find home-grown solutions to our crystal meth issues," McLaughlin said. "The need is definitely out there and is growing steadily."

Nancy Pearson, another society volunteer, said the scourge of crystal meth has already spread through many areas, particularly nearby American states. She said crystal meth has been termed an "epidemic" in Washington state, and the Oregon government has declared a state of emergency, effective July 1, related to crystal meth concerns.

Pearson said she has seen the devastating effects of crystal meth on a family member over the past eight months, and realizes the drug affects many areas of society.

"We're seeing a steady rise in crystal meth-related crime in our community. We're seeing support services straining to keep up with the increasing demand to meet the needs of crystal meth addicts and their families."

The turnout at Wednesday's launch was heartening to all involved, she said.

"What I see here today is a community that wants to confront the issues, wants to take charge and bring about the changes needed to help our youth in our community be 'crystal clear'."

For Brenda Richardson, who took in Wednesday's event to support the cause, crystal meth has also had a life-altering impact on her family. Her 25-year-old son is currently in a detox program to deal with the crystal meth addiction he has had for the past 10 years.

Seeing him battle the drug, which has reduced the weight on his six-foot-three frame to 150 pounds, has been wrenching, she said. "It has been an awful process."

Esquimalt Coun. Ruth Layne, a society member, called for immediate steps to confront the crystal meth problem.

"Every day that passes, we lose more children and more young people to this drug. Time for talk is over, it's time for action."
Crystal Death: Meth a deadly drug

North Shore Salvation Army community ministries director Peter Defehr is on the front lines. In fact, he's one of the few people on the North Shore who doesn't shake his head when asked if crystal meth is becoming prevalent in these parts. He already knows it has

The unfortunate part of it is that the kids who are getting into the experimental stages of their lives, to get on to this stuff once, a very high percentage get hooked on the first use and the rest are hooked on second use by guarantee," he said. We see it all too frequently. It's widespread. It's in every walk of life that we know of, it's coming from every financial background, and it's something that's not restricted to the impoverished.

Defehr says many youngsters he's had a chance to talk to use meth to mask deeper troubles. From the information we have it's an escape from reality and this is very cheap. For five bucks you can buy a 12- hour hit. It's readily available.

He's also one of the few people on the North Shore to witness firsthand the fallout from the drug.

Homelessness, obviously the crime wave because they have to support the habit and the mental issues that go along with it. They lose what god gave them as brains. And it happens so quickly. Everything is bent on getting that next fix. And then, of course, the other thing is the prostitution. It's another form of a crime wave how they obliterate their bodies with disease and everything else based on the fact that they're selling their own bodies for that fundraising project to find the next hit. It's not an isolated incident," he shrugged

Defehr said education is important to mitigate the danger of the drug, but admits that's just part of the solution. It is a process of education but then also getting rehab available to them instantly, for those who meet that window of opportunity. We have so little [youth recovery programs.] This is our youth we're talking about. These are kids.

Defehr points to a pilot project in Maple Ridge that tackled the problem of meth addiction - and related byproducts like homelessness - thanks to the Meadowridge Rotary Club. A multi-tiered effort, involving police, the municipality and other community stakeholders, the task force is working on education, prevention, rehabilitation and enforcement. Defehr would like to see a similar program in North Vancouver.

Yesterday, Defehr and Sue Cook, a concerned resident from the Lower Lonsdale area, hosted a drug awareness meeting at the Salvation Army Hall on 12th and Lonsdale. Gord and Mary Robson, the Meadowridge Rotary Club members who helped galvanize community support for the crystal meth action plan in Maple Ridge, were scheduled to present a 40-minute video entitled Life or Meth: A Community Takes Action.

District Coun. Jim Cuthbert, who had a chance to screen the video at the Lower Mainland Municipal Association meeting in Whistler earlier this year, doesn't deny that crystal meth is a problem on the North Shore. I believe it is. It's not surprising given its occurrence in other communities," he said

After viewing the Life or Meth video he said, I was surprised to learn about the extent of the problem, especially among younger people. I think we can use the Maple Ridge model here.

Cuthbert also noted that the lack of drug detox or rehab beds on the North Shore is problematic. That's certainly an issue."
Straight facts about crystal meth addiction

Meth labs in basements. Bony boys scratching scabs on their skin. Headlines claiming "One hit and hooked for life." Megalomania. Hallucinations. Psychosis.

With the hurricane-like fury of methamphetamine fear flying around in the media, you have to wonder who's actually having the "psychotic episode" - the drug users or the rest of us. The parents who fill up on distorted news bites about a drug "epidemic" while sipping their morning coffee. The public figures who focus on meth and its supposed link to crime. The people who focus on the grubby kid behind powder and pipe, instead of on the things that lead him down the drug path in the first place.

Clearly, logic and reason - not to mention facts - have flown out the window when it comes to meth, making it hard for people to see the big picture. And the same holds true for other psychoactive substances, from alcohol to heroin to crack cocaine.

What can we do to regain our composure long enough to identify the root issues and come up with real solutions to the real problems? Let's try focusing on facts.

Ironic as it seems, a street kid's decision to take meth is based on a kind of logic, or "meth math." You have a need or desire to get high, a shortage of cash, and a lack of wheels to seek out substances. You choose meth because it's cheap, easy to get, and lasts around 12 hours.

Meth use patterns - like most other substance use patterns - are also more mathematical than many people make out. Drug or alcohol use is not the same as alcohol or drug dependence. There are different types and levels of use. For some it's simple experimentation. For others, alcohol or drug use leads to trouble at school, work, or with the law. And for a small number of people, substance use becomes a compulsive behaviour required for daily living.

Yet people still cling to the belief that use is addiction, despite the fact that the equation makes sense in only a handful of cases. The majority of people who try meth, like those who try alcohol, do not go on to chronic or compulsive use.

The question isn't "How do we stop the meth epidemic?" The real questions are: What factors contribute to substance experimentation? Which ones make a teenager want to escape his reality? What can we do to help ensure experimentation and risk taking do not lead to harm and dependence?

For young people, drug and alcohol experimentation is linked to a natural desire to rebel and take risks as well as a desire to fit in to a peer group. The need to escape, however, may be rooted in isolation and loneliness, which result from marginalization and a lack of meaningful relationships with parents and peers.

The risk factors that contribute to a kid's decision to drink or take drugs include things like parental modeling of substance use, weak academic performance, low-self esteem, or a sensation-seeking personality.

We have to take the focus off the substances and work on helping young people build and maintain meaningful bonds in their communities. It means ensuring teens grow up with enough protective factors - confidence and close relationships - to not find the oblivion of psychoactive substances particularly attractive.

Logic dictates that we look long and hard at how we're doing as parents and adult role models, rather than rant on ad nauseum about the evils of one substance or another.

What is more harmful than the substances themselves are over-the- top messages that poison parents into thinking there is no hope for their sons and daughters if they so much as look at meth. The fact is there's always hope if we support each other.
Meth to his madness

If there's anyone who understands the scarcity of detox beds on Vancouver Island, it's Victoria resident Martin Cockerill.

A B.C. Ferries employee, the 33-year-old former crystal meth addict had to travel all the way to Kelowna last year to find a readily available detox bed.

And without funding from his employer for the 28-day residential program, he would have spent weeks or even months on a waiting list.

"I got the treatment I needed but I had to drive myself to Kelowna to get it. I took my last puff on the nine o'clock ferry from Swartz Bay," recalled Cockerill, a self-described poster boy for meth addiction who now works with the Crystal Meth Victoria Society.

"I smashed my pipe under my foot and drove like hell to Kelowna. I had to stop for a couple of Red Bulls on the way, but I made it."

The detox facility in Kelowna has 28 beds, of which six are privately operated and 22 are part of the public health-care system. Cockerill, who has now been drug-free for eight months, was lucky to have an employer willing to foot the $3,360 bill for the program.

But that's a luxury few can afford. Most addicts, whether the drug of choice is crystal meth, heroin, cocaine or alcohol, face long waits for beds that are in short supply.

The dearth of treatment beds on the Island, especially for the growing number of youth falling victim to the lure of crystal methamphetamine, is becoming a priority for the Crystal Meth Victoria Society.

"We are currently under-served on Vancouver Island in terms of youth detox beds," president Mark Mclaughlin said during a press conference Wednesday morning.

"If there's a child who needs extended treatment for 20, 40 or 80 days, they're going to be shipped to the Mainland."

There are currently five youth detox beds on the South Island and two more set to come on stream in the Parksville area, he said. Crystal Meth Victoria is working with the Vancouver Island Health Authority on a plan to fund additional treatment beds.

Along with talk of beefed-up treatment programs, Wednesday's press conference provided an update on the society's multi-faceted efforts to stop the crystal meth epidemic.

The society's biggest achievement has been producing an educational video that has received rave reviews from students at local schools.

"The goal of the education presentation is to make meth a bad word," he said. "We want to roll out the program across all the schools on the South Island. We believe forewarned is forearmed."

Students who attend and ask questions about the drug indicate that crystal meth has made inroads into the schools.

"The level of engagement is astonishing," McLaughlin said, noting that many students admit knowing someone who has tried the drug.

"Either they all know the same guy or there's lots of this stuff in our schools and we need to go after it."

Crystal Meth Victoria, which works closely with the Greater Victoria school district, has other initiatives in progress or soon to be up and running. Those include a hotline to provide information about the drug and the upcoming start of a Meth Watch program, a local version of a North America-wide initiative aimed at restricting access to "precursor" ingredients at pharmacies and hardware stores.

Society volunteers are also gathering information on the number of court cases related to meth addiction and the number of youths who have tried the drug. While those results are not yet available, McLaughlin said there's no reason to believe the numbers will differ greatly from a study in Surrey in which 10 per cent of high school kids admitted trying the drug once and between four and six per cent used it more than once a week.

Each "pillar" of the society's approach represents a piece of the puzzle, McLaughlin said.

That comment prompted an impassioned speech from Rev. Al Tysick, director of Our Place street ministry on Johnson Street.

"We need a complete social plan that doesn't only talk about extra beds in detox," Tysick said.

"We talk about the sobering centre, we talk about a safe injection site, but we're not talking about as a community together a complete social plan.

"I can't believe we're sitting here talking about pieces of the puzzle."