First Crystal Meth Anonymous meeting held in Winnipeg

Winnipeggers struggling with crystal meth now have a place to meet and share their story with others dealing with the drug many are calling an epidemic in our city.

Organizers already looking at adding 2nd weekly meeting, expanding group

Crystal Meth Anonymous Manitoba held their first meeting in Winnipeg Nov. 4. (CBC)

Winnipeggers struggling with crystal meth now have a place to meet and share their story with others dealing with the drug, which some are caling an epidemic in our city. 

Winnipeg's first-ever Crystal Meth Anonymous Manitoba meeting was held Saturday night.

"Since we've all faced the same demons, it's like a common bond and you could feel an energy in the room," said Jameson, 24, a former user and one of the organizers of the group. In keeping with the group's philosophy of anonymity, CBC has agreed not to reveal his full name.

"There was business professionals to people that were just coming off the street who all share the likeness of having trouble with crystal meth and they've all had the same struggles," he said. 

"The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop using crystal meth."

The group is the first of its kind in the province and is modelled on the international 12-step fellowship program Alcoholics Anonymous. It aims to provide a safe, anonymous setting where addicts can gather and support each other at all stages of recovery. 
A piece of a syringe is picked up near a back lane in the North End. Experts say the prevalence of crystal meth use is associated with the rise in injection drug use in Winnipeg. (Jill Coubrough/CBC News)

Late last month, CBC News reported methamphetamine is "flooding the market" in Winnipeg. Seizures of the drug have climbed by more than 1,000 per cent in the past five years, while the number of people seeking treatment for meth use has increased by six times over the same period. 

Jameson says the meetings give users a sense of community and support. 

"We've tapped into something that's needed," he said. "It's getting worse in the city but people find it hard to identify with other 12-step groups because it's not the same drug — it's not the same detox that you have to face — you don't go through the same struggles."

'Stories of hope'

The first meeting saw a turnout of roughly 40 people, and Jameson says it stretched over the hour organizers had planned for as everyone shared stories and got to know each other. 

"There's guys with years of recovery that were there who were linking up and giving phone numbers to guys who had days of recovery," said Jameson. "We've all been through it and people can actually see stories of hope."

Jameson says those connections can be life-changing.

He credits a man he met who offered to sponsor him a few months ago as the catalyst he needed to give up crystal meth after using for two years. He is now just over 60 days clean.

"It took my soul, it took me down quick and hard," said Jameson, who tells CBC News he used the drug for about a month straight and lost 30 pounds immediately after trying it just once. "I tried it and I was taken away that night — it's the most addictive thing I've ever been a part of."

Jameson says he sold everything he owned to pay for the drug before resorting to lying and stealing to feed his addiction. He says his family stopped talking to him, his girlfriend left him, and he was living in his car when he met the man who sponsored him. 
Seizures of crystal meth have climbed by more than 1,000 per cent in Winnipeg over the past five years. (RCMP)

Now, just two months later, he's living in an apartment, has a job, and has a baby on the way.

"The difference in sobriety is unbelievable — I'm living a far different life than I ever could have imagined 60 days ago."

Jameson and the other organizers of Crystal Meth Anonymous Manitoba hope the group and the connections made at the meetings will help others change their lives around too.

He says he handed out 20 chips used to mark and celebrate sobriety.

With the success of the first first meeting, the group's organizers are looking at possibility of adding a second weekly meeting and starting more groups in other areas of the city.

"I felt at home, I felt among friends, I felt among survivors," he said. "This has been something that's been really tough for me — something that I've been ashamed of — but in that room I felt at peace and I felt like I belonged."

The next meeting will be held next Saturday at St. Mary Magdalene church in St. Vital.

With files from Jill Coubrough