Statistics show 64 per cent increase in use amongst young people

Meth1-FlickrcraigkohlrussThere has been a huge increase in the amount of youth seeking treatment for crystal meth addiction in Alberta. Crystal meth, which is highly addictive, can cause devastating effects such as, brain damage, teeth falling out and body sores.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr/Craig Kohlruss
Crystal meth use is on the rise in Alberta and young people appear to be especially vulnerable. But the provincial government appears to have not yet taken the same kind of public action it did the last time crystal meth abuse was making headlines in the province.

The Calgary Journal has obtained data from Alberta Health Services (AHS) showing the number of individuals age 12 to 24 seeking treatment for crystal meth abuse in Alberta has skyrocketed from a low of 681 in fiscal 2009-10 to 1,116 in 2012-13. That's an increase of almost 64 per cent in the past five years.

Those numbers come amidst reports of rising rates of crystal meth trafficking and possession in Calgary and Edmonton.

According to a recent article on Jan.3, 2013 in Metro News Calgary, "Police encountered crystal meth nearly twice as often in 2012 than the year before."

Meanwhile, a Metro News Edmonton article posted on Nov.6, 2013 reported, "Meth usage jumps among Edmonton youth." The data is based on AHS Addiction Services cases in Edmonton involving crystal meth use among youth age 12 to 24.

Tom Hanson, Staff Sargent with the Calgary Police Service Drug Unit, says he is aware of a rise in crystal meth use, but is hesitant to suggest why more people are using.

"It's something that we would like to know the answer to as well," Hanson says. "The risks that are associated with [crystal meth] are devastating."

Crystal meth is the illicitly-manufactured form of the stimulant chemical methamphetamine. The odourless, white, or off-white powder is snorted, used orally, smoked or injected.

Hanson says crystal meth costs about $100 per gram and is "readily accessible" in Calgary.

The drug's contents tend to be a combination of toxic chemicals such as lye, Drano, pseudoephedrine, battery acid, insecticides, solvents and ether.

"It's just a horrible drug," Hanson says. "The danger of it is the fact that it is so highly addictive. It causes brain damage over the long term. It makes your teeth fall out. It breaks down your body, as far as your muscles are concerned. It creates paranoia and hallucinations."

Aside from the damage crystal meth inflicts on users, Hanson says meth labs pose great risks for civilians and law enforcement officials as they are "highly, highly, explosive, highly dangerous and highly toxic."

When it comes to tackling the issue of crystal meth in Calgary, Hanson says the Calgary Police Service is considering its options.

"I'm not going to go into any detail about how we are going to go about going after these things, other than to say that it is a priority," Hanson says. "We want to make sure that we can get as much [crystal meth] off the street as we can."

Natalie Imbach, clinical director at the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre, says the current situation when it comes to meth addiction is "stunning."

The Calgary-based organization offers long-term treatment to chemically-dependent youth and their families.

"I've seen an increase in the reported use of crystal meth from our young people here at the centre over the last year, year and a half," Imbach says. "I feel like [crystal meth is] quite accessible. I would say that kids have far more access to harder drugs than they used to."

Another organization observing a rise in crystal meth use is Calgary's Alpha House. The non-profit agency offers a variety of support services to individuals affected by drug and alcohol dependencies.

Adam Melnyk, Alpha House's outreach coordinator, says that aside from increased crystal meth use, his organization is witnessing a demographic shift in the city's addict population.

"Over the last year or two, we're seeing more young people than we have seen in the past," Melnyk says. "The younger generations are more likely to be using [crystal meth] in our experience."

This spike in crystal meth activity comes less than a decade after the Premier's Task Force on Crystal Meth raised concerns over the increasing prevalence of the drug.

The Premier's Task Force on Crystal Meth was created by the provincial government in 2005 to oversee the development of a province-wide strategy to stop the abuse and negative impacts of crystal meth in Alberta, according to a Task Force report from 2006.

The group was comprised of government officials and community representatives and headed by Dr. Colleen Klein and Dr. Bob Westbury.

In 2006, the Task Force released a comprehensive report calling for a "province-wide approach" to "fight back against crystal meth." According to an analysis by The Calgary Journal, a third of the report's 83 recommendations pertain to youth drug prevention and treatment.

These youth-focused recommendations included increasing recreational and cultural opportunities in communities, implementing mentorship programs for drug-endangered children and enhancing access to addictions counselors in schools.

The Alberta Minister of Health's office did not respond to two requests for comment on how many of those recommendations were acted on.

Red Deer North MLA and former member of the Task Force, Mary Anne Jablonski, says she is uncertain what government actions followed in the wake of the report.

"I can't tell you how well the recommendations were followed, because personally I haven't checked up on it myself," Jablonski says. "But I did feel good at the time and for a few years thereafter because we didn't hear those horror stories about crystal meth that were happening in other places [in North America.]"

Jablonski says she is hearing more about crystal meth in the media and she regrets that the government did not keep a focus on the issue.

"Grab that [Task Force] report and find out if there's something we could be doing about it right now," Jablonski says.

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What do you think are some things Calgarians can do to help those fighting an addiction?


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