Edmonton·Audio

Highly addictive crystal meth a growing concern in Edmonton

The use of crystal methamphetamine in tandem with opioids is having deadly consequences and putting police officers and the public at risk, Edmonton police say.

'Opioid users and meth users are using both drugs at the same time'

Crystal methamphetamine is a highly addictive drug that is increasingly being used in combination with opioids, Edmonton police say. (Ontario Provincial Police)

The use of crystal methamphetamine in tandem with opioids is having deadly consequences and putting police officers and the public at risk, Edmonton police say. 

The highly addictive drug speeds up the body's central nervous system, but unlike fentanyl it is cheap to buy and easy to find. 

"Typically, opioid users will use opiates to get high, meth users would use meth to get high," Sgt. Guy Pilon, a member of the Edmonton Drug and Gang Enforcement Unit, said in an interview on CBC Radio's Edmonton AM on Tuesday.

"Now, there is a phenomenon that's occurring on the street where opioid users and meth users are using both drugs at the same time, and what it does is extend the high for them."

Police say meth is a growing problem in the city partly because its getting cheaper. We'll ask a police officer what could be driving this trend and what authorities are doing about it. 4:03

According to the province, 43 per cent of people who fatally overdosed while using fentanyl in 2018 were also using methamphetamine, more than any other substance.

In 2016, meth was used in 29 per cent of fatal fentanyl-related overdoses.

The number of people visiting addiction treatment centres in Edmonton who report using meth has risen by 45.9 per cent over the past five years, according to Alberta Health Services.

Police have seen an increase in seizures of meth taken off the street, which correlates to the growing number of meth users, Pilon said.

A chart showing Edmonton Police Service seizures of methamphetamine every year since 2015. (Edmonton Police Service)

"We're certainly not getting it all, but I think it's proportional to what we're seeing out there, and our numbers are increasing yearly incrementally," he said.

The average street price for meth is usually around $100 a gram, but it can sell for less.

"Some days $50, sometimes $40 a gram," said Pilon. A gram can be divided into 10 parts and sold in single doses, but how far it goes depends on the user. 

The drug is cheap compared to fentanyl, which goes for $150 to $250 a gram, said Pilon. How much is used for each dose of fentanyl also depends on the individual's tolerance.

Police discovered the trend of mixed opioid and meth use by talking to users, and are seeing more reports where traffickers and users have been arrested and charged with the combination of both drugs, Pilon said.

Erratic, violent

"Meth causes people to become violent, erratic, and do things that are quite abnormal," Pilon said. "So it causes a serious risk for both police, hospital attendants, and anybody who's dealing with them, because they can be so violent at any given time."

The highly addictive nature of meth also drives other crime, said Pilon. 

"Typically those that consume meth will do other endeavours in order to get their money," he said. "So they might be doing break and enters, they might be doing theft from autos or theft of autos, anything they can do to generate some income which allows them to buy and consume their meth."

Recently, police Chief Dale McFee talked about wanting to treat some of the root causes of addiction.

New initiatives will be announced soon to help identify solutions to deal with the drug problem and get addicts help, Pilon said.

Treating meth addiction is not easy, Pilon said. 

"It's a really protracted recovery system, so it takes a lot of work," he said. "And it's going to take a lot of effort by everybody.

"The recurrence rate after they've been in an addiction recovery is really high."

About the Author

Thandiwe Konguavi is an award-winning journalist, born in Zimbabwe. She is an associate producer and reporter at CBC Edmonton. Reach her at thandiwe.konguavi@cbc.ca or on Twitter @TandiwayK (https://twitter.com/TandiwayK).

With files from Madeleine Cummings

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