'Zombie apocalypse': Crystal meth exacting a heavy toll on users and Sask. health care system

Addictions expert in Saskatoon describes drug's impact

Posted: May 07, 2019
Last Updated: May 07, 2019

First responders at a meth call in downtown Saskatoon. (Dan Zakreski/CBC)

A Saskatoon addictions expert says the province's health care system is ill-equipped to deal with the spread of crystal methamphetamine use.

The powerful stimulant offers users an intense, long-lasting high that can incapacitate people for anywhere from 12 to 24 hours. The cost for a user is low and the availability is high.

The withdrawal is brutal, leaving users emaciated, despondent, irritable and often violent.


"Some people in recovery who have experienced it really see it as a form of a zombie apocalypse in the community. That's their language with regards to it: people being lost to this, being like the walking dead," said Dr. Peter Butt.

"We've lost people that were doing well in recovery from other substances who then relapsed with methamphetamine and became psychotic and, frankly, died."

Addictions expert Dr. Peter Butt. (CBC)

The challenge for the health care system is that recovering users need a longer period for detox and rehabilitation than is readily available now, Butt said. This relates to what the drug does to the brain.

"It's a form of chemically-mediated acquired brain injury, when people have been using substances excessively," he said.


"So there's changes in the structure and the function in the brain. That brain has to go back to normal before they can begin to make progress in changing the pattern of their life."

This takes time and professional help, Butt said,.

"If you think of the type of sustained team-based environmental approaches that we use for other acquired brain injuries in terms of strokes or head injuries, there's a lot of complexity to that," he said.

"We need to be using some of that science, I think, in developing a better system of care for people who have more severe substance use disorder."


Dan Zakreski

Dan Zakreski is a reporter for CBC Saskatoon.