Pubdate: Wed, 20 Jan 2016
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 The London Free Press
Author: Randy Richmond
Page: A1


London needs a drug strategy fast - by summer - to fight off an 
onslaught of crystal meth on the heels of the battering the area has 
taken from abuse of drugs like OxyContin, its top public health 
official warns. "We should be moving on this more quickly," Dr. 
Christopher Mackie, medical officer of health and chief executive of 
the Middlesex London Health Unit, said Tuesday.

"It's fair to say we have people being harmed every day. We probably 
have someone dying of an overdose or an infection or complications 
due to an infection every week. We have a major issue here." Nothing 
less than a community-wide approach is needed, said Mackie, who 
doesn't expect the full-blown plan to be operating by summer but 
wants to see the first steps taken.

He isn't calling anyone out on the lack of progress in London's 
battle against addiction: He and the health unit took the lead in 
calling for a community drug strategy after releasing alarming 
statistics on addiction in 2014. A health survey showed double the 
rate of overdose deaths in Middlesex County compared to the rest of 
Ontario, taxing health care and social service agencies, hospitals 
and police. Mackie said then he'd begin enlisting allies among those 
agencies to battle addiction. At the time, opioid addiction - people 
hooked on drugs like OxyContin and oxycodone - was still considered 
the region's most pressing drug problem.

But since then, crystal meth - a white crystaliine drug that can be 
inhaled, smoked or injected with a needle - has taken hold of London 
and the surrounding region, with new and frightening levels of problems.

Cheaper, easy to get and with a longer high, crystal meth has become 
so popular even the hardest-core street alcoholics - who have relied 
on non-beverage alcohol for decades - are turning to the drug.

Crystal meth damages the brain every time it's used and it takes five 
to six years of being clean to recover, Mackie says.

"It is just so much worse than other drugs," he said. "There is no 
methadone for crystal meth," he said, referring to a synthetic drug 
used as a substitute to treat opioid drug-addictions. As addiction 
agencies, police, paramedics and others began reporting the 
mushrooming of crystal meth early last year, the call for a much more 
co-ordinated effort to tackle the region's drug addiction problem was renewed.

The health unit's initial efforts to create a drug strategy were 
hampered by the difficulty in hiring someone to lead the effort, 
Mackie said. That position was filled recently.

Representatives from schools, health and social agencies, police, and 
other groups met for the first time last fall and are to meet again 
by month's end, with working groups to begin tackling several issues.

Some of the gaps in the system are already known, such as the lack of 
a medical detox centre that forces many people to use jails to get 
clean and the shortage of support for people once they leave jail, 
Mackie said. The community-wide strategy will have to include a 
different approach to crystal meth, said Chuck Lazenby, general 
manager of the Unity Project shelter.

"I've been doing this over 14 years. We've seen different drug trends 
over the years, and what they require is to change your response," 
she said. "What we all get pressed with is resources to do that." In 
some parts of the London region, the battle on crystal meth has 
simply opened the door to other deadly drugs such as fentanyl, 
addiction workers report.

The drugs targeted for treatment in a strategy can be a "moving 
target," Mackie agreed.

But, he added, "The things that don't move are the underlying causes 
of addiction" - poverty, lack of social support, negligence that must 
be tackled by any community-wide strategy.

"The reality of hopelessness and loneliness underneath drug 
addictions aren't different," he said.

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Meth Timeline

2014: Opioid overdoses make headlines

2015: Crystal meth scourge identified

2016: Multi-agency drug strategy planned
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom