Take action to combat rising numbers of youth using meth: Children's Advocate

Manitoba's Children's Advocate says she is concerned about the rise in crystal meth use among the youth connected the child welfare system and she is calling on the province to act.

Says she's seen kids as young as 13 reporting meth use, and limited resources for youth seeking treatment

Manitoba Children's Advocate Daphne Penrose says her office is seeing youth as young as 13 using crystal meth. (CBC)

Manitoba's Children's Advocate says she is concerned about the rise in crystal meth use among the youth connected the child welfare system and she is calling on the province to act.

"The government needs to quickly and decisively plan a course of action on how we're going to deal with this particular situation that we have for youth and care providers in the province," Daphne Penrose said.

Penrose, who was appointed Children's Advocate this spring, said her office is seeing and hearing from youth who are using crystal meth on a daily basis.

"There's been a noticeable increase," Penrose said. "We have youth come in that haven't slept for days, or haven't eaten for days, and that is really concerning for us."

Earlier this week, CBC News reported the prevalence of the drug is reaching new heights in the city. The number of drug seizures has increased by more than 1,000 per cent in five years, according to police. The number of people seeking residential treatment for meth use at the province's publicly funded facilities has climbed by more than six times, over the same period.

We have youth come in that haven't slept for days, or haven't eaten for days.- Daphne Penrose, Manitoba Children's Advocate

Police and health professionals say the majority of users fall between the ages of 18 and 35, but Penrose said some of the youth she's seeing are as young as 13 years old. 

Calls for more resources

She said there are limited resources for minors seeking addictions treatment. 

"The pull of the methamphetamine drug is so significant and the addiction is so strong that they often can't wait on the wait lists," Penrose said. "They often go back onto the street and using and these kids don't want to do that — they want to stop. When they're out there using they're being exploited and traumatized, at times."

In an email, a spokesperson for the Health Minister said Manitoba continues to invest in addictions services. And work is underway to develop a mental health and addiction strategy. Recommendations are expected by the end of this year.

In Winnipeg, the only detox service for youth 17 and under is the Youth Addictions Stabilization Unit run by the non-profit Marymound. It offers four beds for voluntary clients and four for involuntary clients.

Jason Gower, director of programs, said in the past year, 54 teens who reported using crystal meth have stayed at the involuntary stabilization unit. 

"The reporting of crystal meth use is steadily increasing," he said. "It's a very concerning issue."

What's most concerning for him is the increase in the complexity of the cases, as well as violence associated with those reporting crystal meth use.

"They're traumized youth who have had a problemed life and history, and you put a substance in your system that's volatile like, that [it] makes already volatile kids that much more dangerous," he said. "There's some real physical health concerns that we see in our kids and from the community from crystal meth."

Stats show the usage rates among these youth are also on the rise, Gower said.

He admits every organization has funding limitations, but he would like to see more resources and a strategy in place for police, emergency rooms and other front-line agencies when they come across those in distress and under the influence of crystal meth.

For information about addictions services for youth visit Manitoba Health's website.