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This article was published 24/3/2018 (1029 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Crystal methamphetamine use is skyrocketing in Winnipeg, with reports of police and health-care workers overwhelmed while trying to cope with the chaos.
Earlier this month, the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba issued its report on the police shooting death in September of a man who was high on meth and psychotic when he stabbed an officer. The report cleared police and called on the province to "review the adequacy of responses when dealing with drug-abuse and mental-health concerns."
One Winnipeg man says he’s proof meth users can recover, if the supports are there for them when they’re ready to get treatment.
Troy Draper remembers waking up alone in an abandoned house after his crystal meth-using friends left him for dead. Now, the 34-year-old is clean and sober, and volunteering as an addictions advocate.
"If I can do it, anybody can do it," if they have a lot of support, said the tall, soft-spoken man with a firm handshake.
"It’s a very long journey," said psychiatric nurse and clinician Shannon Morley, who invited Draper to share his story at a mental-health conference Friday in Winnipeg.
Draper said he was extremely shy, and dealt with a lot of anxiety. He started smoking cannabis, then turned to crack, then cocaine.
Addiction took hold.
He started robbing gas stations to support his habit. He got caught and woke up in the Winnipeg Remand Centre.
He served prison time at Stony Mountain Institution, got sober and stayed sober for three years after his release. When he reconnected with his ex-partner, he discovered crystal meth.
He said it grabbed hold of him the first time he tried it.
"I was very high. It was instant. Right away."
The euphoria didn’t last for the then-22-year-old. His anxiety got worse as the neurotoxin of crystal meth went to work.
"I decided to do strange things, like take apart vacuums and put them back together."
He lost a lot weight. At one point, the man who is 6-3 weighed just 130 pounds.
Draper said he became "sketchy" — paranoid — and not someone people wanted to be around. Fortunately, he had a safety net that held strong for him.
His adoptive family, a day program, counselling and his home-share mentor, Matt Harder, who has shared a place with him for 10 years, haven’t given up on him.
"Everyone supported me. They were there for me through the good times and the bad," he said.
"I set him up with a cellphone so he could be in constant communication to stay safe," Harder said.
If Draper was in danger, he knew he could call a friend for help.
Morley said it’s that kind of non-judgmental support that someone in the middle of meth addiction needs to keep them safe and alive until they’re ready to get treatment. And when they’re ready to get treatment, it needs to be available, she said.
"Working in the jail system was really eye-opening," said Morley, who is now with Manitoba Families community living psychiatry services.
She saw people coming in who were meth users and sick.
They’d receive a lot support, get clean and be on the road to recovery — until their release.
"When they return to the community, they’re going back to the same situation they came out of," Morley said. "We’re missing something."
The wait time for men who are ready to get into a crystal meth treatment program is eight weeks, and for women it is more than 200 days, said Hygiea Casiano, a forensic psychiatrist and professor at the University of Manitoba, who spoke at the conference Friday.
The wait is shorter for people who don’t want to get help — those sent for court-mandated treatment, she said.
"We know individuals who go under those conditions fare much more poorly than those who are ready."
Draper knows that first-hand.
"In order to fight this drug, you’ve got to want to fight this drug," he said. "I was my own worst critic, but the people who were my supports kept supporting me."
They were there for him when he was clean and sober.
"They reminded me of how I would feel after the high wore down."
And they were there for him when he’d slip and use again. Such as when he went on a binge that lasted more than 10 days.
It ended when he woke up alone in an abandoned house where he and friends often got high.
"They probably thought I died and just left me there."
He went home and detoxed by himself, drank a lot of water and slept for two days.
After that, he stayed sober for 60 days, but the paranoia and feelings of hyper-vigilance persisted — the effects of crystal meth are long-term.
"That’s the stuff that needs to be supported," Morley said.
Draper’s sobriety is tied to his day program, one-on-one counselling and staying connected to his family — which includes community support workers, he said. The seeds they planted took root in the man when he was ready to move on from meth.
"I had a support worker tell me that one day I’ll wake up and be bored with it — bored with the people, with the same marks on my body. That I’ll get fed up."
He was right.
"I wanted something different. There’s more to life than crystal meth."
He said he last used it Jan. 25, 2017.
"I got out just in time before fentanyl hit the street," Draper said.
"I could be dead in a ditch, in jail or an institution."
That could still happen, he said.
"The urge is always there."
Draper said he has deleted all the negative contacts from his phone, and avoids triggers that make him want to use meth.
"I take pride in myself a lot more than I did. I look in the mirror and like the person I see."
Being an addictions advocate and having a purpose — helping others — motivates him.
"I’m a better person. This is the best year of my life."
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.