Pubdate: Wed, 05 Jan 2005
Source: Monday Magazine (CN BC)
Copyright: 2005 Monday Publications
Author: Anonymous
Note: Anonymous is a Victoria writer
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Bookmark: (Youth)


On Christmas Eve, I drove through downtown Victoria to see my 14-year-old 
niece, Heather (not her real name). The stores had closed a few hours 
before. Traffic was thin, few people were on the sidewalks. At Douglas and 
Johnson the usual handful of damaged people were hanging around, perhaps 
trying to stock up on the drugs they'd need to get through the holiday 
weekend. What is their fix of choice, I wondered. Heroin? Cocaine? Designer 
drugs? Booze or plain old weed? Or is it crystal meth?

Three weeks earlier, I learned that Heather is using meth. Her mother, my 
sister, doesn't know when she started but the changes in my niece have been 
rapid. And with her decline, my family and I are being drawn into a realm 
we never thought would form a part of our lives. At a time when children 
and families are celebrating the season with gift giving, my family and I 
were unwrapping layers of fear, despair, anger, confusion and desperation 
as we search for a way to save Heather.

Heather's last school picture sits on my desk. Her white blouse looks 
crisp, her smile fresh. In those clear eyes you can see the intelligence of 
a creative girl. The mass of curls that springs about like coiled wires is 
pulled into a tight ponytail. She was active with music lessons, dance 
lessons, art, trips and had many friends. But she struggled at school, with 
ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) setting her apart, making 
her learning techniques different from the other kids. A speaker at a 
recent public information session on crystal meth said most of the kids 
using the drug have learning disabilities. One layer of information is 

I learn that almost two-thirds of the teens using crystal meth in Victoria 
are girls. Another layer. Most of them are creative, intelligent kids. Two 
more layers. The drug helps them lose weight. Heather is already skinny, 
but it may be another layer to consider. They're depressed, anxious, have 
other emotional illnesses. Maybe we should dig deeper into the family's 
medical history. For many other kids it's abuse, poverty and damaged 
families that push them into the street and drug culture.

The reasons are complex. Whatever the reasons, the drug works fast; it's 
almost instantly addictive and begins an insidious destruction of the brain 
from the first inhalation, injection or swallow. It causes 
seizures-"flailing," the kids call it. With every use they move closer to 
devastating side effects, or death. And the kids' relationships with family 
and friends, all their supports, start to not matter. They adopt a street 
family, are absorbed into a culture of daily or hourly survival.

My sisters and I flounder to find the right way to connect with Heather, to 
bring her back. Heather's sister cries a lot now, and thinks the situation 
is hopeless. The grandparents don't know what's going on, other than that 
Heather goes missing for a while. The truth would crush them, so we try to 
protect them as a way of helping Heather, so that she can go to her 
grandparents and not feel judged. Heather's parents consult with police, 
doctors, counsellors, other parents.

I started walking the downtown streets to look for Heather. I went with 
Heather's mother one afternoon. The next night one of Heather's cousins 
joined me. Late another night, another sister went with me. We found her in 
an alley. There were about eight kids, all in their early teens, tucked 
into a corner. When we called out for Heather, she popped into view, ran 
over to us. We held her, told her we love her, that we want her to come 
home, to be safe. Her eyes, framed in black makeup, darted uncontrollably, 
a side effect of meth. The drug and street pulled her away. We watched her 
run back to them.

Crystal meth has my family in its grip. We are at a loss as to what to do 
to bring Heather back. We are angry that there is so little support 
available for her and other kids-detox and social services have been 
drastically cut back by government. There is only one detox centre for 
teens on Vancouver Island and it can't cope with the rapidly increasing 
numbers of children succumbing to the dealers and temptations.

I don't know if seeking her out to talk with her for a few minutes every 
few days is helping Heather feel connected with family. There are some 
adults downtown watching out for her, who phone to say that they saw her, 
that they bought her a meal. We are all grateful for this makeshift social 
support system.

When I drove downtown on Christmas Eve, I automatically scanned the 
sidewalks and doorways for Heather, even though I knew where she was and 
knew that I was going to see her. As my family and I make this dark journey 
with Heather, we're learning that honesty is critical. Parents have to be 
honest with themselves that mistakes have been made with their children. 
Other family members-aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents-have to be ready 
to change the ways they interact with troubled children and each other.

Pride must be put aside. As one of my sisters said recently, a troubled 
child is a very humbling experience. We are humbled. We are afraid. We are 
also still hopeful. With every layer of information and emotion we unwrap 
through this experience, we are searching for that one vital connection 
that will save our Heather.
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