‘It’s an epidemic:’ Inexpensive crystal meth eclipsing opioids on the Prairies

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. 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.”

Lethbridge police chief Rob Davis says there’s a perception among some people that meth is safer than fentanyl. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC)

The situation in Saskatoon is no better.

“It is an epidemic. I think we’ve reached that point,” said Det.-Sgt. 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.”

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 Sgt. 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.”

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.

At a West Broadway drop-in centre in Winnipeg, many of the people who use the sleeping mats are addicted to meth. They stay up all night on the streets, then need a safe place to sleep during the day. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

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 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.”



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Sherwood Park

Sherwood Park is a large hamlet in Alberta, Canada within Strathcona County that is recognized as an urban service area.[7] It is located adjacent to the City of Edmonton’s eastern boundary,[8] generally south of Highway 16 (Yellowhead Trail), west of Highway 21 and north of Highway 630 (Wye Road).[9] Other portions of Sherwood Park extend beyond Yellowhead Trail and Wye Road, while Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) separates Refinery Row to the west from the balance of the hamlet to the east.[9]

Sherwood Park was established in 1955 on farmland of the Smeltzer family, east of Edmonton. With a population of 70,618 in 2016,[6] Sherwood Park has enough people to be Alberta’s seventh largest city, but technically retains the status of a hamlet. The Government of Alberta recognizes the Sherwood Park Urban Service Area as equivalent to a city.

History

Sherwood Park, originally named Campbelltown, was founded by John Hook Campbell and John Mitchell in 1953 when the Municipal District of Strathcona No. 83 approved their proposed development of a bedroom community east of Edmonton. The first homes within the community were marketed to the public in 1955. Canada Post intervened on the name of Campbelltown due to the existence of several other communities in Canada within the same name, so the community’s name was changed to Sherwood Park in 1956.
Geography

The Sherwood Park Urban Service Area is located in the Edmonton Capital Region along the western edge of central Strathcona County adjacent to the City of Edmonton.[8] The majority of the community is bound by Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) to the north, Highway 21 to the east, Highway 630 (Wye Road) to the south, and Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) to the west. The Refinery Row portion of Sherwood Park is located across Anthony Henday Drive to the west, between Sherwood Park Freeway and Highway 16. Numerous developments fronting the south side of Wye Road, including Wye Gardens, Wye Crossing, Salisbury Village and the Estates of Sherwood Park, are also within the community. Lands north of Highway 16 and south of Township Road 534/Oldman Creek between Range Road 232 (Sherwood Drive) to the west and Highway 21 to the east are also within the Sherwood Park urban service area.

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