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Learning About the Effects of Meth

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Some myths were busted, some new fears realized and a lot of valuable information was taught at a special presentation on methamphetamine, organized by the Swan Valley Business Consortium and hosted at the Westwood Inn on Feb. 18.
The main speaker of the Tuesday morning presentation was Cory Guest, a Winnipeg Paramedic and 911 Communication Centre Supervisor who now works in Community Relations for Emergency Medical Services and educator on drugs in Manitoba’s communities.
“I wasn’t happy with the existing drug programming in our country,” said Guest as he introduced his presentation. “No offence to teachers, I love them, but I didn’t think that a Phys. Ed. teacher should be providing drug education to our youth. I don’t think they are the subject matter experts. They haven’t been in the trenches.
“A lot of the information I was finding provincially was simply not current. A lot of the information was false and they’re still using scare tactics.”
Some of the scare tactics that Guest cited were “marijuana is laced with fentanyl” or “meth will make you addicted after one use”, which he said might be effective to keep people away, but is ultimately untrue.
Guest also noted that he was recently invited to be part of the provincial curriculum development team, helping redevelop Manitoba’s addiction and drug education in the curriculum.
Another gap that Guest has seen in drug education is a multi-substance focus. As regions of the country trend towards one drug or another – with the west coast leaning towards heroin and fentanyl, while the Prairie Provinces see a higher prevalence of methamphetamine – it is dangerous to forget that the trends can change, and as prevention for one drug may be successful, another may rise up at the same time.
Good Samaritan Law
Guest explained the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act became Canadian law in May 2017. The law seeks to remove a disincentive to call for emergency assistance for a drug overdose by protecting those who call 911 for themselves or others from simple possession charges of illegal substances.
“Not everyone that is addicted is necessarily a dirtbag,” said Guest. “If we treat it like a health issue, we can hopefully provide care and treatment for that person. In my 23 years (in emergency services) I have seen people leave their best friends to die because they don’t want to be charged.”
Guest also encouraged that this information be spread publicly, like in high schools, because he felt that this law was not advertised enough when it passed.
Can’t tell what it is
Although the presentation focused on methamphetamine, the emphasis on multi-drug education reminded everyone that opioids are still a very relevant part of the street drugs in Manitoba.
One of the concerning things that Guest mentioned was that it is next to impossible to tell what a certain street drug might be anymore, because of cross-contamination and dealers cutting drugs together.
“I was at a police conference a few months ago, and the head of the Canada Drug Test Lab was there, and he said ‘I can’t look at a substance and tell you what it is nowadays,” said Guest. “It has to go away and be tested. You can’t tell me that you can tell what a drug is by looking at it. That’s not the case anymore.”
One of the stories Guest told involved a friend of his whose eenage son died after taking what he thought was a sleeping pill, which turned out to be enough fentanyl to kill about eight people.
He also mentioned another way that drug dealers deliver opioids and create designer drugs, by making them look attractive or making them look like a drug they actually aren’t, like making fake Xanax tablets with fentanyl.
A brief history of meth
“Meth is the most powerful stimulant on the market today,” said Guest. “It’s the polar opposite of drugs like fentanyl.”
The drug that is now notorious for being cheap to manufacture and highly effective as a stimulant was discovered in 1893. It was widely used in World War 2 to promote wakefulness, aggressive behaviour and increased production. A version was even marketed to housewives at one point.
Meth effects
Methamphetamine releases huge amounts of dopamine and serotonin in your brain, which signals positive feelings. Once addicted, the brain will shut down its own dopamine emitters and rely on the artificial substance.
While it’s not true that you’re addicted after the first use, the addiction rate is much faster than other drugs.
“You can recover from meth addiction, but it is unbelievably difficult,” said Guest, citing that it can take two years for the brain to reset itself to produce normal amounts of dopamine again.
In comparison these are statistics Guest noted of the amount of units of dopamine that can be released from various substances and activities:
• Food – 150 units
• Video games and social media – 175 units
• Smoking – 200 units
• Healthy sex life – 200 units
• Cocaine – 450 units
• Methamphetamine – 1,300 units
“Humans are not designed for 1,300 units of dopamine,” said Guest.
More importantly, there is no antidote or replacement therapy for meth like there is for opioids, which create even more danger for emergency services who have to deal with meth-addicted persons who often exhibit superhuman-levels of strength and resistance.
Meth response rate
Guest noted that, unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be very reliable data collection for rural areas at this time, so his statistics focused mainly on the Winnipeg area. This is the Winnipeg Fire and Paramedic Service Meth Response Data:
• 2017 – 768;
• 2018 – 1,166;
• 2019 – 1,479
“We’ve had a 2,000 percent increase in meth responses from 2015,” said Guest. “Emergency rooms used to see 15 meth patients a month (in 2013). They now see 207 meth patients a month (as of 2018).”
Local efforts
Community Health Nurse Neil Ives, who works out of the Swan Valley Primary Care Centre, also came up to speak about his efforts and how he handles drug-addicted persons from a public health perspective.
In addition to providing Naloxone kits, he also often provides clean supplies for addicts in order to provide them a safer environment.
“We do a lot of urine drug screening as part of our process for people who are engaging us in care, and it’s amazing the amount of substances that are present,” said Ives. “It is still primarly prescription-based (substances), but meth now is king, unfortunately. We were playing catch-up with the opioid crisis, and now we are overwhelmed because of the tidal wave of disfunction.”
In talking about his services in providing clean injection sites, he describes it as harm reduction, much like wearing a seatbelt or a helmet.
“Provision of condoms or provision of injection supplies also reduce harm associated with behaviour,” said Ives. “It’s a non-judgemental way of saying, ‘You do this thing, but here are some ways you can keep yourself safe in the meantime.’”
Ives also explained a great do-it-yourself way to create a container for sharps, such as needles.
“We encourage people to put their sharps in hard plastic containers (like laundry detergent bottles) and return them to the hospital, or it is acceptable to throw them into household waste as long as they are in a sharps container,” he said.
Learn more
To hear the entire meeting in full, visit youtu.be/41AkKKdlNqA.

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Jeremy Bergen
REPORTER
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