Pubdate: Sun, 05 Nov 2006
Source: Penticton Western (CN BC)
Copyright: 2006 Penticton Western
Author: Tracy Clark


Imagine feeling like you are on top of the world.  Nothing can touch 
you. You're invincible.

This is the feeling that makes crystal methamphetamine  so addictive.

"(Users) experience an extreme sense of well-being,"  said Jody 
Meyer, a youth counsellor with Pathways  Addiction Resource Centre. 
"They feel like Superman.  They have instant energy."

While promises of euphoric feelings may have hooked  some in the 
South Okanagan Valley, those working in the  prevention, enforcement 
and treatment of crystal meth  have only seen its use decrease across 
the region.

"About a year or two ago we thought there was going to  be a huge 
wave of crystal meth," said Cpl. Brad Myhre,  with the Penticton 
RCMP's drug task force. "It's  definitely here, and it's a problem, 
but it's not as  bad as we thought it was going to be."

Most of the problems in the valley with drug use are  connected to 
cocaine and crack. It's the product most  of the dealers are selling 
and most of the addicts are  buying.

"Most addicts decided to stay with the devil they  knew," said Myhre, 
of the high use of cocaine, which he  said accounts for about 90 per 
cent of illegal drug use  (not including marijuana). Crystal meth and 
all illicit  drugs account for the other 10 per cent.

Myhre recognizes that the decreased use of meth in the  valley is a 
rarity. The rest of the province, the  country and North America has 
only reported increased  use of the drug. Rural and urban centre in 
Alberta are  seeing its use skyrocket, he said, adding that the same 
can be said for Vancouver.

There are numerous factors that may be contributing to  the decrease 
of meth use in the valley.

Myhre said the low cost of meth make its sale less  profitable for 
dealers and organized crime. While an  ounce of meth is roughly the 
same price as an ounce of  cocaine, at about $1,400-$1,800, it takes 
less meth to  get high and the high lasts substantially longer.

A meth user might only take half a gram to a gram a day  to stay high 
- - about $35-$80.

The same amount of cocaine would only supply a high  that lasted 
about an hour, so more is needed to sustain  a high.

Other factors in its reduction also includes the  success in 
prevention programs, that were largely  government funded.

Last year the provincial government committed $7  million to fund new 
initiatives to fight crystal meth,  including school programs, public 
education campaigns,  funding for aboriginal communities to assist 
with local  response and funding for treatment programs.

All communities in the South Okanagan have spearheaded  their own 
campaigns to educate the public about meth.  Forums have been held in 
Penticton, Osoyoos, Oliver,  Summerland and Keremeos. This year 
frontline workers,  including local aboriginal leaders, municipal 
leaders,  RCMP, schools and other agencies also received training  in 
Prevention, Awareness and Community Education, a  program founded at 
the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of  Technologies, that focuses on 
the issues of meth.

All of these efforts provide consistent messaging, said  Terri 
Kalaski, the community policing co-ordinator.

"We need all communities to deliver consistent  information," she 
said. "It is about educating. It is  about the education, then 
prevention and treatment."

Meyer said this education has created a stigma that  crystal meth is 
bad and dirty.

It's a stigma based on factual information.

First is the way crystal meth is manufactured.

The ingredients for this synthetic drug, which is also  know in the 
Okanagan as crystal, speed, gack, ice,  glass and jib, can be found 
"under your kitchen  counter." They include ephedrine or 
pseudoephdrine,  acetone, red phosphors, hydrogen iodide and 
sometimes,  ammonia, sodium and lithium.

It's then cooked into a crystal form, which can be  chopped into a 
powder and snorted, dissolved into water  and injected, made into 
pill form or, most commonly,  smoked.

It's usually smoked from a glass pipe specifically  designed for drug 
use. But it can also be smoked using  a bong or household products 
like a light bulb, pop can  or even off of a Brillo pad, said Meyer.

After the first time using the drug, the user's  tolerance is 
automatically increased and their chances  of addiction are high.

"There is no experimentation with this drug," he said.  "It's crazy. 
It's meant to be abused."

According to Myhre the user also develops a high  psychological 
tolerance and a high physical tolerance,  unlike cocaine users.

Similarly, the side effects are both physical and psychological.

Meth users may stay up for weeks at a time without  sleep. In 
comparison, cocaine users usually stay up for  a couple of days and 
then sleep for a couple of days.

Meth users will often experience heart palpitations or  arrhythmia, 
high blood pressure, dehydration and  increased body temperature 
leading to hyperthermia.  Other physical effects include the feeling 
that there  are bugs crawling under the skin. The user will scratch 
and pick away at those invisible bugs until their skin  has large 
open sores, that are infected and full of  blood and puss.

Then there is meth mouth. Because meth dehydrates its  users, saliva 
production is reduced, allowing bacteria  to invade the mouth. The 
result is cavities, rotting  and eventual loss of teeth.

And meth is an appetite suppressant, users quickly shed  pounds and 
can become anorexic.

The clinical effects of meth include stroke, delusional  thinking, 
sleep deprivation, paranoia psychosis and  mental illness, such as 
schizophrenia, anxiety and  depression. A meth user, for example, may 
hear voices  or think people are out to get them. Many of these 
symptoms persist for years or are permanent even even  after the user 
has stopped taking meth. This includes  damage to their brain, which 
in brain imaging studies  is shown to be similar to the damage caused 
by strokes  and Alzheimer's.

And, Meyer said, the relapse rate is high.

So, who is using meth?

"This one doesn't have a border," he said. "This drug  is everywhere. 
I just think anyone with a brain can  become addicted."

Single moms, for example, may begin using meth to stay  awake and 
ensure they can get all of their chores done  while their child is sleeping,

But meth is commonly used by teens because it is cheap  and because 
of society's obsession with instant  gratification and adrenaline 
rushes, said Meyer.

As a counsellor and therapist, Meyer said he is always  analyzing the 
family unit.

"Parents have a really big job. They have the hardest  job in the 
world," he said. "Lots of parents are doing  lots of things right. 
Parents you just need to talk to  your kids."

It's not necessarily about good or bad parenting, just  "parenting, period."

Meyer said getting kids involved in activities, like  sports, scouts 
or cadets will help ensure their  excitement and joy in life is 
coming from a positive  source, rather than the last hit they took 
from a meth  pipe.
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