Crystal. Ice. Crank. Jib.
It’s smoked or snorted or shot directly into the bloodstream with a needle.
Soon, you’re wired; paranoid, if you take enough. You might be awake for days.
When one former user first smoked it, he thought he wasn’t getting high. Then he realized he hadn’t slept for four days.
There’s an epidemic of methamphetamine, or crystal meth, on Winnipeg streets. City police and emergency personnel held a joint news conference Thursday to talk about the seriousness of the problem.
Phil is the former user’s pseudonym. His identity is being protected because he now works closely with current meth users and doesn’t want to violate their trust.
He started using meth in 2001 and kept on smoking and shooting up for more than a decade, on and off.
Today, clean and sober, he works with current and former meth users at an anonymous group in the city — an offshoot of Alcoholics Anonymous.
"We’re having 50 people show up at a meeting. It’s exploding, and it’s not the same people every time," he said, adding some people will attend meetings for a while, stop using, and then relapse.
Mike Millard, a former meth user who has been in recovery for two-and-a-half years, is also trying to help others get clean through the group.
Speaking at Thursday’s news conference, Millard talked about how the drug destroyed him.
"What I can tell you about crystal meth is from the first or second time I tried it, I never stopped," Millard said. "I never made a mortgage payment again. I never paid for my driver’s licence, hydro, water. I just became fixated on it.
"There’s a tug-of-war that goes on between the healthy people in your life and this subculture of meth users, and you get pulled from your old world into a new world."
Millard was an addict for 20 years, with two of those years consumed by meth. Nothing in his addictive past could have prepared him for it.
"Before I knew it, it just took a hold of me. What I can say is it doesn’t take long for it to start affecting your morality, your conscience, your sense of joy, everything you feel. Even the first year, or year-and-a-half into my recovery, I had a hard time celebrating anything. I was just emotionally dull."
When Phil still used meth, cocaine and crack cocaine were the main stimulant of choice in the inner city, he said. But meth has taken their place because it is cheaper.
Phil also thinks the meth available is different than what he used to inject into his veins twice a day.
Most of what he used was of a poorer quality. It was made in smaller, clandestine labs out of over-the-counter cold medications that contained pseudoephedrine, a methamphetamine precursor. Now, he said he believes the higher-quality meth on the city’s streets comes from labs that have access to industrial chemicals.
"In my opinion, it’s coming from bigger labs, there’s definitely lithium in it," he said.
As well as a precursor like pseudoephedrine, meth producers use different hazardous but legal chemicals, including ether, red phosphorus, lithium and anhydrous ammonia — a common fertilizer — to make the illicit drug, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an American governmental research institute.
In a 2013 report, the institute suggests most meth in the U.S. is manufactured in large labs in Mexico and smuggled into America, as opposed to being produced in smaller scale, amateur labs.
Phil said most people he knows who use meth — except for people who use sex work to pay for it — turn to crime to pay for their fix.
"It’s people stealing bikes and shoplifting and robbing people (to get money)," he said.
Millard said he’s never seen a drug marketed as predatory as crystal meth.
"I think what happens if you’re a man, is they look at you, what you have, what they can take from you, how long it’s going to take. Once everything is gone, I think they’d like to put you to work.
"If you’re a female, we all know the stories that happen there. They’re terrible. Human exploitation, all kinds of things. I think that’s the difference I’ve seen with this drug as compared to other drugs I’ve struggled with in my life.
"What I observed was really more scary than my own behaviour," Millard continued. "I never went into deep psychotic episodes, but I did witness them. They are very scary: axes, knives, rocks. You name it. Things I don’t even really like to remember. All I can say is it’s like a ticking time bomb."
Millard’s life turned around only after he hit rock bottom. Once he was behind bars, he was able to start detoxification.
It was the same for Phil. He stopped doing drugs after a 2014 stint in jail for possessing meth with the intent to traffic.
In jail, he started seriously attending 12-step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. He had already been going to AA meetings for years. He helped form a 12-step group in jail.
He had had enough and decided to take control of his life, he said. For him, that meant doing the 12 steps lined out by AA. He’s been sober ever since.
Before he went to jail, he tried to kick meth for years. He went to the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba’s residential treatment program three times and the Salvation Army’s addictions program once.
Sometimes, he would stay clean for a while. Other times, he’d start using again right away.
For Phil, addictions treatment never worked very long — until he personally made that conscious choice to sort his life out. And he said he thinks there’s good reason for that.
"Drugs and alcohol aren’t my problem. I’m my problem: my selfishness, my insecurities, that’s what the real problem is," he said.
"The hardest thing about it — addictions treatment — is that it’s not for people who need it, it’s for people who want it," he said. "People’s willingness is directly linked to their desperation level. If you’re not desperate enough to do anything, then you won’t recover."
Sometimes, treatment can be a futile exercise, if an addict isn’t interested, he said.
"There’s nothing the province or the federal government can do to make anyone get clean. They have to be willing on their own. And sadly, not enough are."