September 26, 2018

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'Fighting a war with a water gun:' Manitoba facing major crystal meth crisis

Dane Bourget never thought his life would spiral into addiction.

But when his roommate brought methamphetamine into their home, it started a decade-long journey in and out of treatment centres throughout Manitoba.

"I tried it one time and then, before you know it, it's been years," said the 36-year-old. "I often say I tried meth once for 12 years."

Bourget has been sober since 2014 and now volunteers with a self-help group for people who have struggled with methamphetamine. He has seen how the drug that brought chaos into his own life is taking over the streets of Winnipeg and destroying families.

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Crystal methamphetamine dries on a table at a seized illegal laboratory in Ensenada, northern Mexico on Aug. 26, 2009. Dane Bourget,36, never thought his life would spiral into addiction but when his roommate brought methamphetamine into their home it started a decade-long journey in and out of treatment centres throughout Manitoba. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Guillermo Arias

Crystal methamphetamine dries on a table at a seized illegal laboratory in Ensenada, northern Mexico on Aug. 26, 2009. Dane Bourget,36, never thought his life would spiral into addiction but when his roommate brought methamphetamine into their home it started a decade-long journey in and out of treatment centres throughout Manitoba. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Guillermo Arias

Dane Bourget never thought his life would spiral into addiction.

But when his roommate brought methamphetamine into their home, it started a decade-long journey in and out of treatment centres throughout Manitoba.

"I tried it one time and then, before you know it, it's been years," said the 36-year-old. "I often say I tried meth once for 12 years."

Bourget has been sober since 2014 and now volunteers with a self-help group for people who have struggled with methamphetamine. He has seen how the drug that brought chaos into his own life is taking over the streets of Winnipeg and destroying families.

While other regions of Canada are coping with an opioid epidemic, crystal meth has become the drug of choice in Manitoba.

The Addictions Foundation of Manitoba says meth use increased by more than 100 per cent in adults and nearly 50 per cent in youth since 2014.

The province's chief medical examiner says meth was involved in 35 overdose deaths in 2017, up from 19 the year before. In contrast, fentanyl was involved in 14 fatal overdoses and carfentanil, a synthetic opiate about 100 times more powerful, was involved in 32.

"We are seeing an unprecedented amount of methamphetamine that has come into our city," said Insp. Max Waddell with Winnipeg's organized crime unit.

The drug is appealing because it's cheap, available, easy to make and it gets people high for significantly longer — it can last 14 hours while crack cocaine lasts only about 45 minutes.

The effects of the drug can be devastating for everyone who encounters it, including police.

A Winnipeg police officer was sitting in his patrol car recently when a man suspected to be high on meth threw a propane tank through the rear window of the cruiser. The same day, another man who police suspect was high on meth had to be shot with a Taser after he allegedly assaulted someone with a screwdriver and threw a shovel at a police officer.

Another man suspected of coming down off a meth high taped machetes to his hands before calling 911. When officers arrived, he advanced on them yelling that he wanted to be shot. He was taken into custody unharmed.

"Methamphetamine makes people very unpredictable and when people are unpredictable that means they are not in control of themselves," Waddell said. "They become in a state of ... psychosis where they are seeing and hearing things that are not real."

Possession charges for meth increased by 890 per cent since 2012, police numbers show.

In 2017, more than 12,000 grams of meth was seized by police. In January 2018 alone, more than 5,800 grams was taken off the streets.

Police are also seeing a significant increase in other crimes associated with methamphetamine — property crime, drug crime and violent crime all increased in 2017.

Police have a strategy that includes enforcement, intervention and education, but Waddell said authorities can't deal with the situation alone.

At Morberg House, a 10-bed transitional housing facility in Winnipeg, nearly every person is struggling with a meth addiction. Founder Marion Willis said her clients are different ages and come from various backgrounds, but they all have an underlying mental-health issue and use meth to cope.

Most of the country has acknowledged an opioid crisis, she said. There's been a federal response and a national fund available so organizations can develop and deliver programs. The same can't be said for meth.

"Its like fighting a war with a water gun," she said. "It's very frustrating."

Robert Lidstone was a graduate student dealing with undiagnosed bipolar disorder in 2006 when he first tried methamphetamine.

"It had a hold on me," said the 37-year-old. "Once I became addicted, it was just an incredible battle."

He's been to treatment a few times and has relapsed, but said it's vital to support people trying to get clean. For some families affected by meth addiction, the cost of treatment is just too high.

"So far the institutional response is not able to catch up," Lidstone said. "We are falling way behind very quickly because this crisis is moving faster than police and first responders, faster than the health-care system and the addiction and mental-health system."

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