Pubdate: Fri, 13 Sep 2002
Source: Whitehorse Star (CN YK)
Copyright: 2002 Whitehorse Star
Author: Sarah Elizabeth Brown


Empty-handed except for the clothes he was wearing, Matthew Cardinal 
received a priceless gift two days before Christmas 2001 - the desire to 
kick the cocaine habit that had him in its grip for the last eight years. 
Sitting alone in a barren, dingy apartment, he looked around at nothing. 
All he had was clothing and his own body. He'd spent four of the last eight 
years in jail for property crimes - smoking crack cost money he didn't 
have. But other people had things he could take and sell.

He thought about a neighbour living upstairs, a neighbour who had things he 
wanted. A place to do the mundane things in life, like cook his own meals 
and take a shower. A relationship with a woman not based on selling drugs. 
Trust is nonexistent between addicts.

He wanted a place to store his eagle feathers and traditional medicines. A 
place to dwell, read books and have his own phone number.

"I just had enough because I had nothing."

Friends first introduced him to cocaine when he was 19.

"It was a partying tool, basically," he said. "And that's what I thought it 
was, just another partying tool."

At first it was fun, but he progressively became more addicted, and more 
desperate to get his fix. He said he was caught and convicted for only a 
fraction of the crimes he's committed for drug money. He has no idea how 
many thousands of dollars worth of cocaine he's consumed, though he recalls 
once smoking $1,500 worth of coke in 12 hours with a couple other people. 
He'd get high in parks, in apartments of people he barely knew, or at 3 
a.m. in a vehicle.

"The more I exposed myself the more I isolated myself."

After getting out of jail in Edmonton for a string of break and enters, his 
mother sent him a bus ticket to Whitehorse last September, a clean start 
somewhere new. He and cocaine were quickly reunited.

By Christmas he'd had enough, and the 27-year-old went home and stayed with 
his mother, reverting to a childhood dependency as he went through 
withdrawal - shaking, nausea, no appetite, erratic heart rate.

He also supported himself by focussing on what he had to do in order to 
live a balanced life, and on what he wanted out of life. He's surrounding 
himself with people who have balance, who make healthy choices. He's 
learning about his aboriginal traditions with a native elder.

"Now I have a picture of what I want, living a life of balance externally 
and internally," he said. "Just going to work, putting in my eight hours - 
$8.50 per hour. It means all the world to me. It's better than making $7.50 
a day in jail."

When he looks at the friends still addicted, he realizes they're still 
teenagers, still 19.

With the help of his mother and a native elder he met by accident at a 
hockey game, he's now working, upgrading at the college, attending sweat 
lodges. He has a phone number. He's starting to grow up mentally, 
emotionally and spiritually after an eight-year pause. And cocaine is no 
longer winding its way through his blood stream.

Part of being clean is being aware, no longer in denial about what he was 
doing and how the system works.

"I wasn't a normal human being any more. I was like a machine, like a slave 
to the people who supplied me," he said. "When I look at all the desperate 
things I did, it was like a war. I was on missions every day."

The people making money are the suppliers, he said. The street-level 
sellers are just conduits. He calls it a feudal system with one person in 
the middle and everyone else enslaved.

Once in debt to his suppliers, he couldn't every crawl out. He tried to 
stop smoking crack and just sell the drug, but he couldn't be around the 
drug and not use it.

It's a con, this game, and it uses denial, he said. By getting high over 
and over, he started to believe that he needed the drug to survive. He was 
in denial, ignoring what he knew about the body needing water, food and 
sleep, not white powder.

He said he's seen a pair of pregnant prostitutes shooting up into their 
necks. Another addict who wanted to commit suicide turned to 
self-mutilation, peeling off skin.

The real dealers sit back and wait for other people to commit the crimes 
for their fixes, he said. The users aren't just people in the gutters, 
Cardinal continued. They're moms, teenagers in school, college students and 
9-to-5 employees.

"Cocaine promotes crime. It doesn't matter who sits in the centre, who 
holds the bag ... either way, they're actually promoting crime 
intentionally," said Cardinal.

RCMP drug awareness coordinator Cpl. Peter Greenlaw says substance abuse is 
linked to up to 80 per cent of crime in Whitehorse. Measuring the number of 
alcoholics and addicts is next to impossible, but one way to monitor drug 
use is to monitor violence and property crime.

While alcohol is by far the most prevalent drug, cocaine is the second most 
common. Ten years ago, a half-gram went for $125. Now that half-gram can go 
for as low as $50. And it's purer, hence more addictive and harder on the 
body, said Greenlaw. Cocaine in Whitehorse is in the 80 to 90 per cent 
purity range. A decade ago, 40 to 50 per cent of a half-gram was actual drug.

Most Whitehorse coke users use needles to plunge into their high. Marijuana 
is becoming more common and more pure as well. Chemical drugs such as 
Ecstasy and methamphetamine, or speed, are also on the rise. Heroin is 
here. The problem with chemical drugs is they're rarely what the dealer 
says they are, and are often actually a cocktail mix of stimulants or 

Locally, drugs are sold by a bunch of small groups of people, said 
Greenlaw, and are sold in schools, bars and dealers' homes.

Cardinal has been to those homes, and he's seen the material things his 
money has given people he bought his drugs from. A few months ago he wrote 
a letter to the editor, calling drug selling a human rights violation. He 
said he received threats from some of his old acquaintances.

It's a "vast" system using tools of coercion, cell phones and pagers, he 
said, and street distributors and drug runners are mules. He points to a 
teenaged girl caught with $50,000 in drug money on an airplane last fall. 
If she'd been caught a little earlier, police would probably have found 
$50,000 in drugs instead. Large amounts of money are being taken from this 
community, he said, all for a few minutes of illusory, powdered happiness.

"People need to know the way this type of lifestyle really is," he said. 
"There are people who are conscious of this and, basically, intentionally 
promote the long-term effects of the drug. These people know before hand 
what's going to happen.

"What they're doing is premeditated."
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