New Brunswick

Addiction workers speak out about crystal meth epidemic

Drug rehabilitation workers are appealing to the public to try to stem the growing number of cases of crystal meth addiction they are seeing in New Brunswick.

Horizon Health Network reports 20% increase in Moncton area

Annie Claveau says her team at Horizon's addictions and mental health services in the Moncton area is determined to help meth users, but the challenges are significant. (Submitted)

Drug rehabilitation workers are appealing to the public to try to stem the growing number of cases of crystal meth addiction they are seeing in New Brunswick.

"We see more and more individuals showing up at our doors and sometimes in a very desperate state," said Annie Claveau, manager of addictions and mental health services for the Moncton area, in a new awareness campaign by the Horizon Health Network.

The number of individuals using crystal meth is up 20 per cent in the detox centre, Claveau said, and trending up in all addictions outpatient services.

It seems to have eclipsed opioids as the latest alarming trend in substance abuse.

Linked to psychosis and serious physical harms

She calls it "one of the most dangerous illicit drugs on the market."

"The thing about crystal meth users that worries me the most is this extreme loss of control of the emotions and behaviours," Claveau said.

It causes mood swings, paranoia and cognitive impairments, as well as unpredictable verbal and physical attacks.

"Symptoms of psychosis are becoming more and more common," said Claveau.

Repeated use of crystal meth is associated with severe, permanent brain damage, serious infections, malnutrition, depression, epilepsy symptoms, respiratory issues, liver and kidney damage, heart damage and sores caused by compulsive picking at the skin.

'Heartbreaking' situations

Addictions workers have witnessed some "heartbreaking" situations, said Claveau.

One young mother, for example, has lost her children, her family and her home. She's now working as a prostitute.

"At one time, she was well-functioning," Claveau said.

But under the influence of crystal meth, the woman "arrived in a psychotic state and became physically ill but was too disorganised to engage and try to improve her situation."

Another sad case, she said, was a man who left the premises on his bicycle and crossed the street without looking.

He was unaware of his surroundings and unable to communicate.

Police later found him naked in a nearby dumpster.

Not meant for human consumption

Crystal meth is made with pseudoephedrine, a decongestant that shrinks blood vessels in the nasal passages, or ephedrine, a central nervous system stimulant used to treat breathing problems or to prevent low blood pressure during spinal anesthesia.

According to information from the health authority, it's "often cooked with other common household products never intended for human ingestion, such as nail polish remover, fertilizer, battery acid, lantern fuel, antifreeze and drain cleaner."

Crystal meth can be made with a common cold medicine ingredient, cooked with a variety of household chemicals. (Ralph Orlowski/Reuters)

"Buyers don't always know what they are taking," said Claveau.

Crystal meth is known by many other names as well, including tweak, meth, glass, ice, Tina, Chrissy, crank, chalk, jib and speed.

It can be taken in pill form, inhaled through the nose, injected with a needle or smoked.

Popular among 'vulnerable' and hungry

"The sad part about it is the most vulnerable people are the ones that are typically using more of the crystal meth because it's very cheap," said Dr. Sarah Davidson, who works at a clinic in downtown Fredericton.

"If you think about it, it's a drug which releases dopamine which is a brain chemical that gets released in your body when you feel really good, when you feel successful, when you feel like things are going well, when you feel loved."

Dr. Sara Davidson says crystal meth is popular with people who live on the street because it doesn't cost much and temporarily makes them feel better. (CBC)

It's also "really helpful," for relieving hunger pangs, Davidson said.

"So, for people who are living rough, who maybe have food insecurity, who maybe don't have really great reasons to feel that everything's going well, it's a bit of a quick fix to get you that feeling that, even though I'm living under a tarp, even though I haven't had anything to eat today, if I have this drug I get temporarily this feeling that I'm actually ok."

Extremely addictive

The high can last for days, but when it wears off the urge to get that rush again is so intense, said Claveau, that individuals "would do anything."

Tolerance builds quickly, requiring larger and larger doses and upping the risks of harm and severe health problems.

Kelly Hallihan of the Miramichi opiate replacement clinic said her best advice is to never even try it.

Hallihan said over the last 18 to 24 months she's seen significant impacts from crystal meth.

Besides the terrible effects on users, she said, it's affecting the entire community.

"Families are affected because they often struggle to see their loved one taken over by their addiction. They feel helpless sometimes."

Increase in child abuse and neglect

"It has increased rates of crime related activities," said Hallihan.

"We're seeing violence — more numbers in terms of child abuse and neglect cases. And this has created a sense of fear and uncertainty for community members."

Hallihan said she's not trying to scare anyone, but felt it was important to speak out in order to raise awareness of the risks and of what's happening.

Health workers say depending on the way it's taken, meth can cause a high that lasts up to 12 hours. Users say it can keep them awake for days. And the comedown leaves you feeling aggressive and violent. (Ontario Provincial Police)

Healthcare workers admit recovery is not easy, but say it is possible.

"It may not be the first time that they reach out for treatment that they'll engage," said Hallihan.

"It could be numerous times before we can make that happen."

Relapse rates high

About 60 per cent of former crystal meth users will relapse in their first year of recovery. A quarter of them will relapse in years two through five.

Treatment options include detox, outpatient addiction and mental health services and mobile crisis intervention.

Hallihan said they've had "great success" in terms of people using the new Miramichi mobile crisis unit.

That's a team of specially trained mental health social workers and nurses who respond when someone is experiencing an addiction or mental health crisis.

Since it began operating in late October, they have responded to 51 calls, according to Horizon.
Six of those were related to crystal meth.

Similar units are also operating in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton and the Upper St. John River Valley.

Help is available anytime by calling telecare at 811.

With files from Shift and Information Morning Fredericton


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