Saskatoon

Health Minister says rapid growth of Sask. meth problem was 'hard to predict'

Health Minister Jim Reiter says rapid growth in Saskatchewan’s crystal meth problem has occurred under his government’s watch because drug crises are difficult to predict.

Jim Reiter responds to calls for stronger response to meth 'crisis'

Health Minister Jim Reiter says Saskatchewan's crystal meth problem is 'troubling.' (Albert Couillard/CBC News)

Health Minister Jim Reiter says rapid growth in Saskatchewan's crystal meth problem has occurred under his government's watch because drug crises are difficult to predict.

Responding to a CBC News report on the rise of crystal meth in Saskatchewan, Reiter said on Tuesday he doesn't believe the problem could have been avoided.

"It's hard to predict what is going to happen because by the same token, fortunately — so far, anyway — we haven't been affected as badly as some areas of the country on opioids," said Reiter.

"Does that mean we did a good job on opioids but not on crystal meth? I don't think that's the case, right. I think it's frequently just hard to predict what's going to hit, and what's going to sort of take control."

Crystal meth use has climbed in Saskatchewan since 2005, when it first started making headlines in the province.

Although conferences and meetings were held to develop a response to crystal meth, the problem has continued to grow.

The numbers have spiked most dramatically since 2013. From 2015 to 2016, the number of people reporting crystal meth use when admitted to drug treatment services jumped by 200 per cent.

Police are also reporting major growth in the number of crystal meth-related charges, which were seven times higher last year than in 2013.

Saskatchewan has seen rapid growth in the number of crystal meth-related charges since about 2015. (Steven Silcox/CBC News)

Health workers, police call for bigger response

Saskatoon Health Region addictions consultant Peter Butt was among the health and social workers who called for a bigger response to the drug. 

He says it's also taking lives because it makes people with HIV too unstable to continue the daily treatment they need to survive.  

"We have a problem here — a crisis, quite frankly — in terms of drug addiction," said Butt, "and fentanyl has received a lot of attention and certainly the mortality is significant, but what's being missed here is the mortality associated with crystal meth in part due to HIV/AIDS."

Reiter said he was troubled by the numbers but said the province had increased its funding for addictions in the past decade.

Province says funding is up

According to the province, funding for mental health and addictions services increased by close to 45 per cent in the last decade, from about $216 million in 2007-08 to $308 million in 2015-16.  

Last week, the province said it had created an opioids task force.

Asked whether the province could apply lessons learned from the crystal meth problem in its response to fentanyl, Reiter said education would be key to avoiding a similar crisis with fentanyl and opioids.

To the families affected, he said "we hear you.

"We've continued to make it a priority and we are going to continue to do more."

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said from 2015 to 2016, the number of people reporting crystal meth use at the point of hospital admittance jumped by 200 per cent. In fact, the number of people reporting crystal meth use when admitted to drug treatment services jumped by 200 per cent.
    May 31, 2017 3:08 PM CT