Police are dealing with a prairie fire of methamphetamine use which is rapidly overtaking fentanyl as the drug of choice for many.
Opioid use continues to be a public-health crisis with just under 4,000 deaths across Canada in 2017 and over 3,000 in 2016.
But officers in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta say they’re worried about crystal meth as a narcotic of choice.
“The meth problem is happening across the Prairies. They’re seeing that opioid use is now being replaced with meth,” said Lethbridge police Chief Rob Davis.
“What I’m hearing anecdotally is so many people were dying on the fake fentanyl that there’s a perception out there that meth is safer — still dangerous, but safer.”
Meth, followed by heroin and fentanyl, is the top drug consumed at the supervised consumption site in Lethbridge. Chief Davis recently watched people coming out of the site.
“There were some who looked like the Time-Life commercials for songs of the ‘60s, where everybody’s doing their interpretive dancing, and then I’m watching people who just had that walk of rage, just stomping down the street with all that anger.”
The situation in Saskatoon is no better.
“It is an epidemic. I think we’ve reached that point,” said Detective Sergeant Robin Wintermute from the police drug enforcement team.
“When I talked to my cohorts up in Prince Albert and down in Regina, they have the same things going on in their city as we are. It’s relatively cheap compared to cocaine and so it correlates with our business and residential break-ins, our petty thefts, our mail frauds, stolen autos, all that stuff.”
Det. Sgt. Wintermute said a tenth of a gram of meth costs $5 to $10 while a single hit of fentanyl can run anywhere from $40 to $60.
Edmonton police have also seen a dramatic rise in meth use. Seizures of the drug surged to 33,112 grams in 2017 from 9,017 grams in 2013. Just under 30,000 grams has been seized so far this year.
“The trend is certainly going upwards,” said Sergeant Guy Pilon, clandestine lab co-ordinator in Edmonton’s organized crime division. “There’s no lack of meth on the street. What we are seeing though is kind of an anomaly in that there is some really inexpensive meth that’s being sold out there, almost half the price of the normal stuff.”
Sgt. Pilon said there’s also been an increase in the use of speedballs — users take fentanyl until about the time they are going to nod off and then use meth as a stimulant.
Many dealers are offering a wide range of drugs for customers instead of focusing on just one kind of narcotic, he added.
“Now the drug traffickers are selling more of a cornucopia of drugs to serve a greater client base.”
Winnipeg’s police Chief Danny Smyth has said the skyrocketing use of methamphetamine is creating a crisis for police, health-care services and addictions treatment centres.
Numbers from Winnipeg’s health authority show there has been a 1,200 per cent rise in people going to hospitals because of methamphetamine — 218 meth-related visits in April, 2018 from 12 in April, 2013.
Officer safety is also a concern. Where opioid users tend to be docile, those high on meth are more unpredictable.
“That’s the problem with it, right? Some of them have been up for days. It’s a devastating drug on the body and typically they’re not easy to deal with when they’re on the drug,” said Det. Sgt. Wintermute.
“They’ll use it all day long or over a period of days just to keep that high ... then it’s a crash. They’ve got to feed that addiction.”