By Trevor Busch
The scourge of crystal methamphetamine is making its presence felt on Taber streets, and local law enforcement is sounding the warning bell about the potential implications for life in the community.
During a review of monthly crime statistics at the Taber Municipal Police Commission’s May 22 meeting, Comm. Martin Sorensen drew a correlation between a rise in petty thefts and an escalating addictions problem in Taber.
“You’re exactly right. Unless I’m totally out to lunch, this is a trend that’s coming. And there’s only one thing driving it,” said Taber Police Service Chief Graham Abela. “This week (May 19-25) we seized 62 grams of crystal methamphetamine in this community. Senior Constable Champagne did an awesome job on an investigation, and was able to eliminate that drug off the street that was destined for this community, and being trafficked here. That’s a significant amount of crystal methamphetamine. It’s just another sign of what’s here, and what’s happening, and the violence that goes along with that.”
Coun. Jack Brewin, who serves as one of two town council representatives to the commission, inquired about how many ‘hits’ 62 grams of crystal methamphetamine might entail for users.
“Crystal methamphetamine is used by the tenth of a gram, called a ‘point.’ So take 62 grams and multiply that by 10, and that’s the number of potential uses that you have within 62 grams of crystal methamphetamine,” said Abela. “When you equate that with price, you’re looking at $4,000 to $5,000 in street value of crystal methamphetamine in that one seizure that would have been sold in our community.”
Pointing to evidence the substance is largely being imported into Alberta from foreign countries, Abela does not believe crystal methamphetamine is being manufactured in Taber.
“I do not believe we have any methamphetamine laboratories, and we have very little information or intelligence from our regional police agencies that crystal methamphetamine is being manufactured in southern Alberta. That’s not to say that it can’t be. But we know that the majority of crystal methamphetamine that is coming into Alberta is being smuggled, usually from China and Mexico.”
According to Abela, Lethbridge’s safe consumption site is designed to accommodate opiate addicts but is being utilized by crystal meth abusers.
“We also know that the majority of the uses occurring at the safe consumption site in Lethbridge are crystal methamphetamine. We also know that the purpose of the safe consumption site is not for crystal methamphetamine, it’s for opiate addiction. The research demonstrates that safe consumption sites — when used appropriately with wrap-around services — reduces opiate addiction, can assist with opiate addiction. They are not made for methamphetamine addiction. Crystal methamphetamine addiction is a totally different beast, and can’t be treated the same way as opiates are treated. So these services that are provided in Lethbridge for safe consumption of crystal methamphetamine aren’t there. Total abstinence is the only way to wean yourself off crystal methamphetamine from an addictions perspective. You don’t have that ability in Lethbridge, that doesn’t exist, there’s no programming for that.”
While now disinclined to believe some of his original training involving crystal methamphetamine, Abela didn’t minimize the potential for addiction.
“Crystal methamphetamine addiction happens fairly quickly. When I first started learning about it, they used to say ‘one use and you’re addicted.’ I’m less inclined to believe that anymore, but it’s easy to become addicted to methamphetamine. It makes you feel very good, it’s a high that lasts a long time, it’s very cheap to use, and it’s become the drug of choice for many users in our region.”
The need for assistance from the community and other agencies in combatting addictions problems in Taber is pressing, and Abela stressed the need for law enforcement to focus on core services.
“It’s an issue for us, for sure. And I don’t see it slowing down, and I don’t see as a police agency… we need the resources. We are trying the best that we can with the resources that we have. Who else in town is going to do this except for us? We’ve partnered with health, with groups such as TCAPS (Taber Community Action and Prevention Society) and TCAD (Taber Community Against Drugs), with our multi-discipline support team partners, we’ve tried to deal with this effectively as a community — and that’s a really important part, that crime prevention, resiliency, education piece — but the cops and robbers piece is also there. We need to focus our time on that cops and robbers piece as well, and we need resources to do that.”
Criminals with addictions issues are usually looking for quick sources of cash or property, added Abela.
“When they’re committing these petty thefts, they’re looking for quick hits in order to obtain cash or product that they can transfer for drugs, in order to get their next hit. Absolutely that is occurring.”
Taber police utilize a variety of information sources in helping to come to grips with the problems associated with drug use and abuse.
“We use intelligence that we glean through our investigations, as well as partnerships that exist within policing agencies around southern Alberta, as well as sometimes just good old police work and hard investigation. It comes in many different ways,” said Abela.
Comm. John MacDonald was troubled about future implications for the community’s youth who become involved in the downward spiral of serious addiction.
“I think your team is going to be busy with this. I don’t see this slowing down, or going away at all. We’re watching these reports about crime and how it’s increasing. It’s alarming to see it exponentially jump, and I think right now you need to keep doing the best you can do. Personally I feel bad for a lot of young people that are getting involved with this.”