Aug 28, 2019

Whether it’s the latest police release, or the next patient in the emergency room, crystal meth has become a major topic across the province, and has been tied by police to a number of other illegal activities such as gangs and property crime.

Inspector Craig Mushka with the Prince Albert Police Service Criminal Investigation Division told paNOW over the past 10 years, police have seen a dramatic increase in meth use in the community.

“Meth wasn’t a predominant drug that we were seeing 10 years ago, however in the last few years it certainly has become probably the most significant drug that we are dealing with,” he said.

He attributed its predominance to the drug’s highly addictive properties.

In 2018, the Prince Albert Police Service carried out 93 separate drug investigations and 61 of those resulted in seizures of methamphetamine. Last year police seized a total of 700 g of the drug. The latest statistics from January to August 2019, show police had 76 drug investigations, 49 of which resulted in a methamphetamine seizure. So far for this year, police have seized 330 g of meth in the city. Musha said the city’s police service works closely with the RCMP through an integrated approach.

“I think it’s fair to say we haven’t experienced any production of methamphetamine in our community, so it’s reasonable to suspect it’s coming from elsewhere,” he said.

Impact on health services

The Saskatchewan Health Authority’s statistics for 2018-2019 are not yet available but for 2017-18, there were 5,660 admissions to addiction services in Prince Albert and surrounding area. From January 2017 to January 2018, 1,415 people admitted to services (25 per cent) reported crystal meth use within the last 12 months.

Count of Admissions to Prince Albert and area Addiction Services Reporting Use within the Last 12 months, by Substance Type, 2017-18 (Total Admissions 2017-18 = 5,660). (Alcohol Drug and Gambling Information System)

Crystal meth usage numbers rise for those accessing specific detox programs in the Prince Albert area. Over 48 per cent of those admitted to a longer-term social detox program reported crystal meth use within the last year. For short term, overnight stays, defined as brief detox, over 15 per cent of individuals reported using crystal meth in the last year.

The count of admissions reporting crystal meth use is a self-report from individuals upon admission to services. (Alcohol Drug and Gambling Information System)

While these numbers are for those seeking support for their addiction, nurses say there’s added pressure to health care resources when it comes to the emergency room.

According to Saskatchewan Union of Nurses President Tracy Zambory nurses in emergency rooms have told her they are seeing up to four overdose patients a weekend.

“Often times too someone who is high on crystal meth will come into an emergency room and sometimes they will just wander. [The] problem is they pull staff away from other issues that need to be dealt with like heart attacks, strokes and the motor vehicle accidents,” she said.

Zambory explained it’s not that the health care concerns of someone with addictions is not important, but explained emergency rooms are not the place they need to be to receive proper treatment. In addition to pressures on resources, Zambory said members have also reported an increase in violent incidents as someone high on crystal meth can become extremely unpredictable.

A spokesperson for the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) informed paNOW patient and staff safety remained a priority.

“The SHA supports safety for employees through mandatory training/standard protocols that provides staff the skills and processes to manage individuals presenting with aggressive behavior regardless of the source,” the authority said in a statement, explaining this can include additional people providing support depending on the situation.

When asked what approach she thought the province should take to addressing the issue, Zambory replied the solution would require input from the entire community, and must include a strong mental health strategy which takes into account food security, housing, jobs, and access to clean water.

“We have to meet addicts where they are at, we cannot put expectations on them. [Police] Chief Evan Bray in Regina said we cannot arrest our way out of this,” Zambory said.

Zambory was speaking this week at a Saskatchewan Teacher’s Federation conference in Saskatoon said the education system also must plays a pivotal role and should include nurses and teaching staff working together. She explained the importance of talking to youth about the importance of openly talking about their problems, rather than the alternative which can be self medicating.

On Twitter: @nigelmaxwell

(File photo/ paNOW Staff)