Territory tries to stop meth use in its tracks

Your heart rate and blood pressure are skyrocketing. Your pupils are as big as saucers. You’re covered in sweat and you can’t sit still.

Your heart rate and blood pressure are skyrocketing.

Your pupils are as big as saucers.

You’re covered in sweat and you can’t sit still.

Your words are nearly incomprehensible, but you can’t stop talking.

And to top it all off, it feels like bugs are crawling across your skin.

These are just a few of the short-term effects of tripping on crystal meth.

And the long-term effects look even worse.

This is the message Kwanlin Dun community outreach nurse Michelle Wolsky is taking to teens from across the North, who are gathering in Whitehorse this weekend for Get the Ball Rolling. It’s Bringing Youth Towards Equality’s eighth annual youth conference.

It’s the first in a four-part information series on the deadly drug, organized by Yukon’s Justice department as part of its Substance Abuse Action Plan.

Yukoners need to know how “dangerous crystal meth is so that it doesn’t gain a foothold in our community,” said Wolsky.

“We’re trying to get people out there educated so they never use the drug knowingly.”

And that’s important because it’s highly addictive.

“Statistically 84 per cent of people who use it twice get addicted,” she added.

Despite the drug’s devastating consequences, which are revealed time and time again in other jurisdictions, its popularity is rising.

And the drug has already shown up in small doses in the Yukon.

Nine months ago, Yukon RCMP seized a small amount of meth in powder form.

“That was a small quantity that was shipped in for personal use,” said Const. Rick Aird of the RCMP’s drug-awareness service.

“We don’t have any fact-based evidence that it’s in the Yukon in any quantity.”

Meth has shown up in the Yukon cloaked in other drugs, said Wolsky.

She hears stories from users she works with through the outreach van and the Kwanlin Dun Health Centre.

“They’re talking about having used one drug but getting a different result from it, so we suspect it’s being laced in the crack and in the cocaine, as well as the marijuana,” she said.

For example the ‘high’ is much longer with meth.

“With cocaine you’re high for 20 minutes to an hour, with crystal meth you can be high for anywhere from six to 18 hours,” said Wolsky.

Because meth is so highly addictive, dealers may lace it into other drugs to get users hooked — ensuring a ready market for meth in the territory.

But it’s hard to know for sure if drugs are being laced, cautioned Aird. The potency of marijuana, for example, can change drastically over time, leading people to believe that it’s laced if they get a bigger high from it one day to the next.

None of the drugs that Yukon RCMP have sent to a BC lab for testing have contained meth.

Crystal meth (from crystal methamphetamine) is also known as speed, crank, crystal, tweak, meth, ice and tina.

It can be smoked, snorted, shot or eaten.

It can be made in a small inconspicuous lab, like a bathroom or kitchen.

And all the ingredients are available at the corner store — like ephedrine from cold medicine, ether, battery acid, insecticides and drain cleaner.

“It is an awful, awful drug — it’s one of the only drugs out there where permanent brain damage occurs, because of the toxic nature of the chemicals that actually destroy the synapses in the brain,” said Wolsky.

It impairs judgment and may make the user feel super-human.

“They may feel like they could go out in front of a bus and stop it,” said Wolsky.

“If they’re continuously using they can go without sleep from 15 to 20 days.”

Over time, users will lose a lot of weight, get infections and deep sores on their skin and look very, very ill, added Wolsky.

It can cause a variety of cardiovascular problems, like inflaming the heart’s lining, and psychotic symptoms, like delusions and paranoia.

It can also reduce levels of dopamine in the brain, leading to Parkinson’s disease.

Most people recognize the physical effects of the drug first, said Cherylee Highway, who has worked as a community addictions instructor in Saskatchewan for 10 years.

She has seen the drug’s wrath firsthand.

“In Saskatchewan, it’s a very different picture,” said Highway in a telephone interview.

“Use has escalated in the past year and production is taking place all over the province.”

Highway presents workshops on crystal meth with the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies.

The program began with a single presentation to 300 workers across the province in 2004, and the results were astounding.

“People were not talking about it in Saskatchewan at that time, but after our broadcast we were really swamped with phone calls,” she said.

“We were racing to get the information out because the problem was escalating at the same time.

“It was just being introduced to some of the communities; people said that they hadn’t heard of it or hadn’t seen it, but as soon as they were trained they recognized some indicators that showed it had been there the whole time.”

In Saskatchewan, as some suspect is happening in the Yukon, meth was being laced into other drugs, like ecstasy, cocaine and marijuana.

The education is not meant to scare, but to prepare, said Justice minister John Edzerza Wednesday.

“It’s something that can be a real problem here if it gets moving in the territory,” he said.

“You basically lose your children if they get into this stuff.”

Edzerza was convinced that Yukoners must be educated on the “devastating drug” after meeting with three meth users at a Justice ministers meeting in Regina.

“These young people told us they would do anything to get crystal meth,” said Edzerza. “One girl, who was about 14, had already been prostituting herself for a year just to get the drug.

“It’s something that’s almost beyond your imagination,” he added.

The information sessions are another step towards keeping the drug out of the territory.

In November, Yukon’s Health department asked local pharmacists to remove cold medications containing the ingredients used in making crystal meth from the store shelves and put behind pharmacy counters.

Highway will be in Whitehorse to present a public session, titled Crystal Meth: What is it? And how can you talk to your kids about it and other drugs, on February 1 in the United Church basement.