By Trevor Busch
Taber Police Service are warning the public of the incursion of a dangerous illicit drug in the area on a scale that has not been witnessed by law enforcement for more than a decade.
“We’re seeing an influx in crystal methamphetamine use into the community,” said TPS Chief Graham Abela in his report to the Taber Municipal Police Commission on March 21. “I can tell you that in 2003-2005, when we first created the Taber Community Against Drugs (TCAD) group, in response to the influx of crack-cocaine use in the community, one of the things that I was most proud of with the work that TCAD had done was that for many, many years after that we did not deal with crystal methamphetamine in this community, and many other communities in the province suffer from it. I felt that was something to celebrate, the fact that we didn’t have to deal with it. It’s not the case today.”
In late 2017, Alberta Health Services reported the number of Albertans who acknowledged using the substance has nearly tripled since 2012, displaying a trend that hasn’t been seen since the 1990s.
Methamphetamine is a white, odourless, bitter-tasting crystalline powder that dissolves easily in water or alcohol and may be snorted, swallowed, smoked or injected. In its smokable form, methamphetamine is called “ice,” “crystal,” “crank” or “glass” because of its transparent, sheet-like crystals. It is smoked in a pipe like crack-cocaine.
“We are seeing people under the effects of crystal methamphetamine, and although we can handle it — I’m not coming here asking for resources or training, we have all that — it’s just a different approach,” continued Abela. “You’re dealing with people who, under the influence of this drug, have psychotic episodes, they become emotionally disturbed, when you deal with them they’re agitated, and they’re quite often violent in relation to their response to the police. We often have to utilize our tools and our training to deal with these people.”
More than 60 per cent of Alberta’s crystal methamphetamine seizures in 2016-2017 were in Medicine Hat, where the drug is believed to be even more prevalent than synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which continues to make headlines in Canada in 2018.
Tolerance to the effects of methamphetamine builds up quickly in regular users, meaning they need more and more of the drug to achieve the desired effect. Abela pointed out that various treatment options exist in the community for individuals seeking to break the cycle of addiction.
“Those are pressures that we haven’t necessarily faced in the past, but since January we’ve dealt with 12 occurrences dealing with crystal methamphetamine, and I’m very concerned as the police chief about it being in the community. First of all, I feel it’s my responsibility to notify our community that we are seeing the drug here. The second thing is to tell people that there is help. We do have Addiction and Mental Health through Alberta Health Services here in our community now. TCAD and TCAPS (Taber Community Action and Prevention Society) were groups lobbying for that through the provincial government. So help can be sought if people are suffering from drug use and abuse. We are there to help as well if people are suffering from these drugs, we are open 24/7, and our counter is welcoming to people that are coming to us for help.”
While focus is always on treatment of addictions issues, Abela pledged the resources of the police service will be brought to bear in attempting to stifle any pipeline of the substance into the community.
“On the other hand, I take a very serious investigative approach to crystal methamphetamine, and it’s the type of substance that the police service will be diligent in prosecuting those individuals that we catch possessing, dealing and trafficking in crystal methamphetamine. We’ll be reaching out to our partners regionally with ALERT (Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams), to see if we can assist, or they can assist us, if and when the time comes for the need for more complex investigations in relation to this drug. It’s very unfortunate that it’s here.”
Reviewing statistical increases in criminal activity in various categories, such as possession of a controlled substance, commission chair Ken Holst asked if there was a direct correlation between a rise in possession charges and an influx of crystal methamphetamine.
“What we find is when we’re dealing with people who are on crystal meth, quite often we don’t actually find the crystal methamphetamine because they’ve used it, or they’ve got it hidden, or it’s not in place where they are,” said Abela. “What we end up dealing with them for is things like lighting things on fire, or violence, domestic abuse, irrational behaviour — so our mental health assessments will go up. It could be a myriad of different criminal offences. But possession may not actually go up, if that makes sense to you.”
While that may be the local experience, Holst noted that drugs and addictions issues can often lead to spikes in other criminal activities.
“We’re worried about that. Senior Constable Champagne is doing a little bit of analysis on that, and did make a report. He feels that some of our property offences have gone up as a result of this,” said Abela.
Coun. Joe Strojwas, who serves as a town council representative to the commission, questioned if changing attitudes toward cannabis in light of pending legalization has emboldened those users to push the envelope with regards to their marijuana habits.
“We’re still encountering marijuana. We’re still actively investigating cannabis files,” said Abela. “I have my own opinions on that. If you want to hear my opinion, I’ll give it to you — but I don’t know that there’s a direct correlation, or that I can statistically say ‘that as a result of this, this is happening.’ I don’t have that data yet.”
Holst agreed that perception surrounding cannabis’ anticipated legality could be a factor.
“That’s a good point. Maybe human behaviour is this is coming in anyways, I can be braver and bolder with it because they’re not going to prosecute because in six months it’s going to be legal.”
Although unable to back up his argument with any specific evidence, Abela suggested changing attitudes toward cannabis may be opening up a gateway for more damaging drug abuse.
“I want to say this: What I’m worried about is that the public sentiment to more liberalized drug use may be contributing to the liberalization of other drug use. And I’m concerned about that. If the public message from government is that drugs are good, how do you tell children that they’re not? I’m concerned with that messaging. It’s hard for young people to differentiate between — in my view — what different types of drugs are.”