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This article was published 15/9/2016 (1536 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The city’s youth are fuelling a surge in methamphetamine use because it’s a cheaper way to get a long-lasting high.

In fact, "because of its affordability, addictive nature and accessibility, the methamphetamine user base in Winnipeg has increased significantly over a few short years, allowing traffickers to prosper," the Winnipeg Police Service said in a statement.

Sadly, both police and health officials don’t expect the situation to get better any time soon.

"Because of these factors, we believe and expect this trend will continue," the WPS statement said.

Shelley Marshall, a clinical nurse specialist with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s Street Connections program, said the program’s clients and local youth agencies have been reporting meth use has been on the rise for at least the past two years. Younger drug users, and users of other stimulant street drugs such as crack cocaine, are turning to meth because it’s cheaper, more accessible and can provide a high for up to 12 hours — compared with a 30-minute high for crack cocaine, which costs twice as much.

'It's cheap, and the high lasts a long time, so there's a lot about the properties that resonate with the wants of youth who use the drug'‐ Shelley Marshall, clinical nurse specialist with the WRHA's Street Connections

"It’s cheap, and the high lasts a long time, so there’s a lot about the properties that resonate with the wants of youth who use the drug," she said.

"It kind of increases your sense of meaning and purpose and increases your engagement in almost everything you do," Marshall added. "When you have exclusion from meaningful modes of production in society, like no access to a job, family’s broken up, children apprehended, and you don’t have meaning in your everyday life, meth becomes sort of an instant replacement for a sense of purpose and engagement."

The impact of meth use has been reflected in Manitoba’s criminal justice system — most recently in a case in which the accused and the victim were both using the highly addictive synthetic street drug.

A 30-year-old crystal meth addict convicted of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl and threatening her with a blowtorch was released from jail Tuesday, bound by strict conditions including a court order not to use illegal drugs.

Nicholas Raymond Serbyniuk was sentenced to 21/2 years in custody followed by 21/2 years of supervised probation. He pleaded guilty on the day his trial was set to begin to sexual assault and assault with a weapon stemming from his drug-fuelled encounter with the underage girl in June 2014. He was freed after sentencing being given 11/2 days’ credit for each day he had served in custody since his arrest.

In asking Justice Joan McKelvey to impose a probation condition barring Serbyniuk from using drugs, the Crown said Serbyniuk needed to seriously address his abuse of crystal methamphetamine — a form of meth he started using when he was only 13.

"We see the results of this particularly pernicious drug all too often in our courts," Crown attorney Mitchell Lavitt said, noting users often make bad decisions that land them in front of a judge.

"In this case, it led (Serbyniuk) to a significant period of incarceration, which would have been avoided if he’d simply been sober on the night in question."

Then 28, Serbyniuk met the 14-year-old girl outdoors during the Winnipeg Pride parade. He didn’t know she was under 18, he told court, but took her back to his place, where they drank beer, got high on crystal meth and had sex — to which she was too young to legally consent. The next day, "after the high had worn off," Serbyniuk became enraged thinking the girl had stolen some of the drugs. He lit a propane blowtorch and threatened her, "saying he was going to burn her eyes out," Lavitt told court. He wouldn’t let her leave and took her eyeglasses and iPad, but eventually she escaped and called police. Charges against him for forcible confinement, uttering threats, theft and sexual interference were stayed.

Lavitt told court he had previously met with the victim, whom he described as a bright young woman from a troubled background. She was living in foster care and appeared to be "on the mend" prior to Serbyniuk’s sentencing, but she couldn’t be called in to give a victim-impact statement because "she has gone essentially AWOL" and is believed to have recently started using crystal meth again.

"It’s not clear whether this particular thing set her off, or something else," Lavitt told court.

Serbyniuk prays daily for the girl and her family, he told court, saying he’s sorry for what he put her through.

"I really wish there was a way I could apologize to the victim and her family," he said, telling court he’s done some "soul-searching" while incarcerated and doesn’t want to get himself into trouble again. "To know what I did, it’s just really hard to accept," he added.

"I just want to say sorry, and I hope she’s OK."

Serbyniuk "has a new outlook on life. He wants to live a clean life," defence lawyer Brett Gladstone said, noting he has applied for treatment at a rehab centre.

But he told court his client is still struggling with drug addiction and expressed concern a court order to abstain from drugs might set him up to fail or prevent him from getting help if he slips up. Justice McKelvey ultimately imposed the order, with an exception that allows Serbyniuk to drink alcohol only in his own home. She said the condition was necessary as an "incentive" for him to get sober, as well as for the protection of the community.

Police expect the relative popularity of meth in Winnipeg to continue as long as the price stays low and it remains easily accessible. The man-made drug is primarily smuggled into Manitoba from British Columbia and sold in Winnipeg at a consistently "very high quality and purity," the Winnipeg Police Service’s organized crime unit said in an emailed statement. Drug busts over the past two months have led city police to seize more than eight kilograms of meth with a street value of about $800,000, "only a fraction of the methamphetamine being distributed in Winnipeg," WPS said.

But encounters with the criminal justice system can often lead to more problems for young meth users, Marshall said.

"The situation of youth today is not an easy road, and crystal meth offers something from the perspective of youth, they get this sense of engagement in everything they’re doing when they use it. So it’s hard to dispel that benefit," she said.

"If the community is concerned about meth, we should really be concerned about youth and what they actually have available to them — that’s where we need to build. Rather than pulling people out of the river, we should fix the bridge so they stop falling off in the first place."

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @thatkatiemay

Katie May

Katie May
Justice reporter

Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.

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