Claus Andrup│What do you know about meth addiction?
The majority of families in Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge will never have to deal with the tragedy of addiction to crystal meth in their lives. For most of us crystal meth is something we read about in the press, see glimpses of on TV in documentaries or advertisements, or are reminded of each time we drive along East Hastings on our way back from a hockey game or concert downtown.
Politicians discuss crystal meth addiction, much in the same way that they discuss health, education or the environment. We expect them to do so and they never disappoint. As is often the case however, it takes the community itself to make the transition from ‘discussion’ to ‘action.’
Through a chance meeting between my wife Deborah and an acquaintance, Rani Bellwood, I came to find myself sitting among 50 or so young people in the Youth Lounge at Pitt Meadows recreational centre on a recent Saturday evening. Rani had suggested to my wife that we may want to attend an educational evening for youth. The theme for the evening was “Life or Meth.”
I thought that 50 or 60 children was a great turnout. They had many questions on the subject of meth and meth addiction, and were keen to share what knowledge they had gleaned informally and, perhaps more importantly, seemed eager to expand their knowledge.
The Life or Meth presentation combined videos and slides with the acting-out of two young simulated addicts who told their stories based on the lives of real characters with whom they had been in contact with or directly from RCMP or VPD reports.
Most of us are familiar with the fact that crystal meth is highly addictive and almost impossible to shake. We know too that it attacks its victim physically and mentally with severe consequences and that death is a common outcome.
Perhaps the cruelest thing about crystal meth is that once introduced to the system it immediately robs the user of his or her reason. The challenge for outreach workers and youth coordinators, it seemed to me, was how on earth do they make addicts understand in the first instance that they have a problem and second, that if they do not kick the habit, they may find themselves in the morgue?
To combat such a powerful drug takes resolve, persistence, ingenuity and the involvement of the entire community from every walk of life. In Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows this seems to be taking place, as demonstrated by people such as Rani Bellwood chairperson of the Life or Meth Youth Forum Organization Committee, Tony Cotroneo Youth Services Coordinator for Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge, Mary Robson chairperson Maple Crystal Meth Task Force, Andrew Tolchard Chairperson for the Pitt Meadows Crystal Meth Task Force and the community partners that assisted.
As parents and adults our views of the addicted vary. Some of us may lump together, or associate a number of unpleasant aspects of the state of our communities. Homelessness, crime, addiction, production and distribution of drugs, prostitution and child neglect become, as it were, a single issue which we think of now and then, but choose to ignore if we possibly can. Until, of course, the day that the problem walks in our own front door in the form of one of our own children.
Parent blame has always been central to any discussion where teen behaviour is concerned. What causes certain behaviour patterns in our youth? Given that our children are subjected to having to watch mum and dad’s behaviour on a daily basis and having to listen to what mum and dad have to say about this issue or that, it is hard to absolve parents from the absolute responsibility of how children respond during the long and often arduous process of becoming adults.
Parents, for their part, are not born experts and most of their training can be said to be of the ‘on the job’ variety.
That said, the least one can expect from parents is curiosity. Bringing up our children should involve a lot of who, where, why, what and when?
In the case of drug addiction among youth the call for who, where, why and when becomes even stronger as the answers to the questions can save lives and whole family structures; and ultimately whole communities.
Here are three basic questions that parents in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows should be asking themselves.
- What are the chances my child will be exposed to this, and will try it
- If my kid is using it, how to I detect that?
- If I think my kid is using, what can I do about that?
The hackles will rise on any parent at the suggestion even that a child of theirs could become a drug addict. Oddly, today it is the youth themselves, at least in this community, who seem to be asking more questions than the parents. This bodes well for future generations and for the quality of life we can expect many decades down the road.
The probability: General population surveys on alcohol and other drug use are often done by telephone interviews. You may have even participated in surveys done through questionnaires at your school. These studies show a low rate of Meth use in the general population.
For example, a major recent survey, the Canadian Addictions Survey 2004 (CAS), asked people about their use of "speed", an informal term that covers all amphetamines, including Meth. The CAS showed that 0.8% of Canadians reported using speed at least once in the previous 12 months.
That doesn't seem like a big percentage so why the big deal?
First, 0.8% of Canadians 15 years and older equals about two hundred thousand people so, while that number is much smaller than some other substances, it's still significant. Also, standard surveys and interviews in the general population likely miss hard-to-reach people such as street youth. Information from other sources suggests that Meth use is much higher among this group.
Information, such as hospital admissions, shows that the number of people seeking treatment for Meth problems is growing. Police have also uncovered more clandestine laboratories producing Meth. They have also seized greater quantities of Meth. All these factors point to increasing Meth use, particularly in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.
The signs: User Denial, Family Member Denial, Enabling, Codependency, Personality changes, Immaturity (avoiding responsibility) Self-Esteem, Suicide attempts, Changes in Relationships, Lack of Motivation, Changes in Thinking, Concentration & Memory, Values and Beliefs, Denial & Lying, Changes in Sleeping and Eating patterns, Reckless & Impulsive behavior, Changes in Physical Appearance and Health, Changes in Personal Habits and Activities, Mental and Behavioral Changes, Arising Legal Problems.
Action: In today’s world help is everywhere, thanks largely to the ubiquity of the internet. Each community recognizes the threat of meth addiction among youth. In Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows we are fortunate to have among us the leadership and volunteers who understand the need to come to the assistance of victims of the proponents of illicit substances.
People such as Rani Bellwood, Tony Cotroneo, Mary Robson chairperson Maple Crystal Meth Task Force, Andrew Tolchard and a small army of youth community partners are poised to help and guide any parent in need of advice. The irony should not be lost here; in large part our volunteer youth are standing by to help parents who do not know how to react to the addictions that may be affecting their own kids. Youth helping adults – perfect.
Maple Ridge, October 2006