It is known as speed or crystal when swallowed or sniffed. As crank when it is injected. Ice or glass when it is smoked. Methamphetamine production, abuse and addiction may be on the rise in the North. Chemical clandestine labs have sprung up everywhere. And local health authorities, police, and drug addiction counselors are bracing for problems.
RCMP Cst. Mike Caira said Thursday that police are discovering methamphetamines during searches or arrests. “It’s usually part of the bar scene,” said the media relations officer. “Kids get arrested for drunkenness or assault. When they get to the detachment, meth (and other illicit drugs) are usually found hidden in their personal effects. It’s a problem not just in Prince George right now but in all communities. Unfortunately, it is probably here to stay. It’s ruining people’s jobs and wrecking their marriages. And there are kids who could carry on to productive lives but they are being devastated by this drug (and other illicit drugs). It all comes back to organized crime.”
Caira said the drug is usually found in small bags and crystallized. “It looks like crystallized sugar.” Since he returned to the city in 2001, the officer said methamphetamine use appears to be increasing. Its street value is less than cocaine, greater than marijuana, he said. “On the street, meth (speed, crystal) costs about $10 to $15 for one tenth of a gram. That’s less than cocaine, for example, so it’s affordable. And when it is inhaled, the high lasts longer than crack. The trouble is once you’re hooked, you’re hooked. It is highly addictive, causing depression, erratic highs and lows.”
Caira said he did not know if the drug was readily available in local schools. “I can’t safely say it isn’t in the schools. We see (addicts) in all age groups from young adults on up. As far as where they are getting it, we have crack shacks here. And we find illegal labs all over, in basements, kitchens and trailers — all very dangerous situations because (meth) is very highly combustible.”
The drug is considered a health hazard because of its potential for abuse and addiction. Street methamphetamine is known as speed, meth and chalk. Methamphetamine hydrochloride, clear chunky crystals resembling ice, can be inhaled by smoking and is referred to as ice, crystal and glass. It is an addictive stimulant drug that activates systems in the brain. As such, it can alter behaviours making it a concern for those who work in the mental health field.
“It is closely related chemically to amphetamines (speed),” said UNBC psychologist Dr. Cindy Hardy. “Methamphetamine is a stimulant which makes people aroused and excitable. It tends to wind people up. Depending on their personality, it can make them aggressive. Especially if they use the drug over an extended period of time and don’t eat and sleep. There can also be what is called a psychotic break where the person becomes delusional and paranoid and may end up in psychiatric care.”
The drug overrides the body’s natural need for sleep, said Hardy. Formication can also occur. “That is when people who are high on the drug believe they are covered in bugs and try to pick them off their skin. They end up covered in scabs from repeated efforts to get rid of these ‘crank bugs’ Violent behaviour is often associated with the paranoia.”
Methamphetamines have been around for decades, she said. “When I was in my 20’s in the 1980’s there was quite a bit of it around. Amphetimines used to be prescribed to treat obesity but there were coronary problems attributed to it. Students used speed to stay up all night before exams and some truck drivers used it to stay awake.”
Drug addiction workers like former cocaine addict Bob Scott sees the effects of methamphetamine abuse every day in his work with DART. “We have people recovering from it. That’s a drug I missed when I was doing drugs. But it certainly is around.”
Methamphetamines can be taken orally by mouth or by “snorting” through the nostrils. It can be smoked or injected intravenously with a “rush” or “flash” following that lasts a few minutes. The sensation is described as extremely pleasurable. However, it causes increased heart rate and blood pressure. And it can cause irreversible damage to blood vessels in the brain, producing strokes. Even small amounts of methamphetamines can produce wakefulness, increased physical activity, decreased appetite, increased respiration, hypothermia and euphoria. Users may also become irritable, confused, tremulous, anxious, paranoid and aggressive. Adverse effects include respiratory problems, irregular heartbeat and anorexia. Use of methamphetamines can lead to cardiovascular collapse and death. Hypothermia and convulsions can result in death.