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A cheap, addictive, dangerous and growing problem

It's cheap, addictive, easy to make, and extremely dangerous. On Monday April 11, a concerned group of Howe Sound residents will host a town forum on the very potent and destructive drug, crystal meth.

It's cheap, addictive, easy to make, and extremely dangerous.

On Monday April 11, a concerned group of Howe Sound residents will host a town forum on the very potent and destructive drug, crystal meth.

Roger Lake of the Washington State Narcotics Investigators Association (WSNIA) is helping to organize the forum.

Lake has been retired from the Washington State patrol since 1998 and has dedicated his time to educating communities on meth.

The 1990s saw a marked increase in the production and use of meth on the west coast of the United States, spreading quickly to the Lower Mainland. And the heaviest production and use continues to be on the west coast, says Lake, and its growth is faster than law enforcement can put together task forces.

Lake reveals the numerous reasons why crystal meth is such a powerfully addictive and destructive drug.

"It's smoked so it has a much higher addiction rate than injecting or snorting and so it's just takes you down like right now," said Lake. "And the drug is extremely powerful. It makes you feel really good. Primary users are females, what they tell us is for weight loss and it makes them feel good about themselves, gives them a lot of self-confidence. And the males use it because of self-confidence, energy and sexual drive. Over the long term use it actually diminishes your sexual drive but short term they think it's quite good for that."

Crystal meth is also inexpensive and provides a high that lasts 12 to 18 hours. But because the duration of elevated dopamine and endorphin levels last so long, when the drug wears off, the brain adjusts these levels to a much lower rate to assert a balance. This crashing feeling is too "uncomfortable" for users, says Lake, so users take another hit. Individuals don't sleep on the drug so it's common for users to stay awake for three to 10 days. Lake says his organization knows of one user who stayed awake for 20 days. The drug eventually induces a psychotic state in the user who then goes on paranoid, violent rampages.

"They become what we call meth-induced paranoia," he said. "They are delusion, psychotic, violent, totally irrational. We've had an increase in domestic violence, child abuse, assaults on any enforcement person, whether it's the meter reader or the guy picking up the garbage. They're delusional, they actually believe they're seeing things and they act on those things."

Because the drug is so easy to manufacture, meth users commonly form their own labs. The ingredients used to make the substance are readily available in hardware stores, pharmacies and sporting goods stores. A simple internet search can provide a recipe that Lake says is "as easy to make as chocolate chip cookies."

He says the drug is a "huge" problem that cuts across social, economic and racial boundaries so the impact on society is much more widespread than other drugs which tend to stay confined within a certain class. Meth labs are often found in residential homes where children live. Both mother and father become addicted and manufacturing the drug exposes the child to chemicals and the danger of fire and explosion. Most labs are detected due to fire or from complaints of domestic violence.

Lake said that authorities and support agencies become taxed almost beyond their ability to keep up. Police, fire department, child welfare, environmental agencies, hospitals and jails are only a few of the agencies involved in breaking up a meth lab. And foster systems find it impossible to place children taken from these homes because they have become known as violent, unmanageable kids. They also carry with them a smell of chemicals, which permeates their skin, making care workers worried for their own health.

Squamish's school-based prevention worker Leanna Buffie is also involved in organizing the forum. She says there is anecdotal evidence that shows meth labs exist in Squamish.

In the next four weeks leading up to the forum, The Chief will run a weekly series on the drug, its impact on individuals and society, treatment and enforcement methods and what communities can do.

Next week's article will focus on the existence of crystal meth in Squamish and how one Squamish resident dealt with his addiction.

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