'Crystal meth crisis' in Kamsack area hints at underlying trauma: experts

An opioid addiction crisis has affected Kamsack townspeople and members of three nearby First Nations for years. Now community members are dealing with an additional crystal meth crisis.

The area has been known for having high rates of opioid addiction

A health symposium held in Kamsack on March 13 and 14 focused on an emerging crystal meth crisis. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

Opioid addiction has been rampant in Kamsack and three nearby First Nations for years.

Now they are faced with another crisis: crystal meth. 

"It's destroying people, destroying families," said Wanda Cote, manager of New Beginnings Outreach Centre in Kamsack.

She said rampant addictions challenges hint at deeper social issues.

The crystal meth crisis was discussed at a tri-reserve health symposium — featuring representatives from the Cote, Key and Keeseekoose First Nations — put on by the Yorkton Tribal Council (YTC) in Kamsack on Wednesday and Thursday. Kamsack is about 225 kilometres northeast of Regina. 

Cote said crystal meth surfaced in the community more than a year ago and that the problem has since escalated.

She said the outreach centre has dealt with several emergency cases for overdoses or drug related injuries.

Staff at the centre work daily with the people who come by for a free lunch or programming.

"So you know when there's something wrong when they're all tweaked out," she said.

They also see first-hand how damaging the drug has been.

Kamsack and the nearby Cote, Key and Keeseekoose First Nations are struggling with a crystal meth crisis. (CBC)

An uphill battle

Cote said there are not enough resources to tackle the problems.

"You look at the bigger picture," she said. "The lack of employment, lack of education. Housing is an issue, and in the three communities there's overcrowding. Poverty."

Cote said awareness is positive, but without increased resources the problem will persist. 

"It seems like the work is always an uphill battle," she said.

Historical trauma

Cote said the widespread addictions problems are people's attempts to mask pain. 

"From my generation onward, we're all residential school survivors," she said. "We pass that on to our children, all those learned behaviours, negative behaviors."

Many people in the area are only beginning to open up about that, she said, noting the centre has increased its cultural programming.

"That seems to be working a lot more than the conventional programming," she said.

Wanda Cote, a Saulteaux woman from the Cote First Nation, said the community needs more resources to tackling widespread and growing addictions issues. (CBC)

Cote said she understands trauma and the realities of addiction, having struggled with an alcohol addiction.

She obtained a social work degree in the '80s and now works to help others "get their lives back on track because I know how damaging addiction is."

Cote relies on prayer, smudge and ceremony.

"That's what keeps me strong and keeps me going because this work is challenging and frustrating, at times," she said.

Wanda Cote says New Beginnings Outreach Centre, which offers addictions programming and free hot lunches, is in need of a larger facility. The centre has already moved once into a bigger space in Kamsack. (CBC)

The frustration arises because change is slow. Cote said they've been trying to help some of the same people for years. Some people lose interest in healing when they start using meth, she said.

Still, the demand at the centre remains steady and Cote said they are in need of more space.

Frontline burnout

YTC addictions worker Melanie Knutson agreed the community is challenged by thin resources.

She said frontline workers are "burning out."

Knutson spoke about crystal meth in Kamsack at the Tri-reserve health forum — something she says was created "because of the crystal meth crisis."

She echoed what Cote said about trauma underlying addictions. Furthermore, she said solutions must be found as young people turn to meth."It's the 13- and 14-year-olds that are starting to use crystal meth," she said.

"What trauma have they been through and how much more trauma are they putting on themselves if these adults don't intervene?"

Melanie Knutson, an addictions worker, said the impact of crystal meth goes far beyond the person who is using. (Hamilton Police )

The challenge with meth is how accessible it is, she said. It's cheap and you can make it with household products.

"People who are really struggling and wanting to use that's what they turn to because it's a really good high," Knutson said.

​"The whole community is affected. It's not just one person."

About the Author

Kendall Latimer

Journalist

Kendall Latimer began her journalism career in print as a newspaper reporter in Saskatoon and then as a feature writer in Bangkok. She joined CBC Saskatchewan in 2016. Latimer shares stories on web, radio and television. Contact her: kendall.latimer@cbc.ca