Winnipeg in midst of a crystal meth ‘epidemic’: front-line workers

“Once he took it he wasn’t the same. He’s not the son that I knew before,” says mother of son who used meth.

Grassroots organizations in Winnipeg are calling on the province to address what they are calling a “meth crisis” in the city.

This comes following a fire set at a transitional housing complex by a client in the throes of a crystal methamphetamine addiction.

On Jan. 7 around 12:30 a.m. a man barricaded himself in a room on the top floor of the Morberg House and set a mattress on fire.

A look at the room that was set on fire in the Morberg House. PHOTO: Brittany Hobson/APTN

The man was in the middle of a crystal meth psychosis according to Marion Willis, founder of Morberg House.

“We know this person and, believe it or not this person is actually quite a nice guy,” said Willis.

“He would never do anything like that except that he had a big slip and the slip was with meth. He entered a deep level of psychosis and that was the outcome.”

Staff and founder of Morberg House. PHOTO: Brittany Hobson/APTN

There were about 15 people in the house at the time. No one was injured but Willis said the incident, along with the death of Windy Sinclair , 29, in December, show the extent of the growing crystal meth problem in the city.

Sinclair was struggling with a meth addiction at the time her death. Her body was found frozen in a downtown back lane. The mother of four was two-months pregnant at the time. A cause of death has yet to be announced.

“The level of meth use in this city has reached an epidemic. The meth psychosis is reaching a crisis that is beyond measure right now,” Willis said.

Willis isn’t alone in voicing her concerns. Bear Clan Patrol founder James Favel said the group has seen a significant increase in meth use on the streets.

“In our first year of operation, between June and November when the snow fell, we found 12 to 18 needles. The second year we found 300. This last year we’re over 4,000 already.”

According to Willis and Favel, accessibility and cost are to blame for the increase. Costs can be as low as $10 for one hit or roughly a quarter of a gram and the high can last for up to 15 hours.

Ruth Dixon knows first hand the devastating effects of addiction. Her 28-year-old son started using meth a year ago.

“He wasn’t the same after that,” she said. “Once he took it he wasn’t the same. He’s not the son that I knew before.”

Dixon works with youth in Winnipeg’s North End. She said the effects from inter-generational trauma are still embedded in the community and kids are seeking ways to self-medicate.

“They turn to drugs for comfort, for a way out; to escape. It’s devastating to see our people in that condition,” she said.

“Alcohol and marijuana are no longer the painkillers. It’s now stronger drugs.”

Winnipeg police are also struggling to address the issue. They say they’ve seen an increase in crystal meth use within the past three years. Adding it’s fueling property crime, violent crime, and dangerous interactions with officers.

So far the province has done little work with organizations to combat the crisis, said Willis.

“We are the ones that can inform a strategy. We are the ones that can mobilize people and we are the ones that can act quickly, and yet we are invisible to this provincial government,” she said.

She wants the province to fund the creation of a drug stabilization unit.

Earlier this year the province increased the budget to the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba by $985,500.

In a statement to APTN, the office for Minister of Health Kevin Goertzen said, “building upon our experience with opioid addiction, Manitoba’s work with methamphetamine will focus on the development of processes and team work to address challenges with withdrawal management, detoxification and treatment, in order to reduce risks to clients and staff who are working with these individuals.”

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