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Alcohol & Other Drugs

The Skinny on Crystal Meth

Victoria Schuckel

Reprinted from "Concurrent Disorders" issue of Visions Journal, 2004, 2 (1), pp. 17-18

In order to better understand why large numbers of young people are using the very popular and very harmful drug crystal meth, or methamphetamine, Dr. Doug McGhee undertook a research project and video documentary on crystal meth use by young people in urban BC. McGhee is a doctor who studied inner-city medicine at UBC and now works as a family physician in Victoria.

Background: Crystal Meth Use in British Columbia

As the following statistics suggest, crystal meth is being used more frequently by younger people in BC:

  • A 2002 study comparing high school and vulnerable youth (average age 17) found that 18.7% had tried crystal meth, with an average first use at 14.5 years1

  • Among homeless youth in Vancouver, more young people (younger than 19) used amphetamines than older youth2

  • The specialized youth detox in Victoria saw a yearly doubling of admissions for crystal meth from 2001-2003, and continue to see this increase with 67% of admissions now for crystal meth detox3

  • Preliminary data from MASY (2003)4, a survey of youth in Vancouver and Victoria comparing high school youth and vulnerable youth, shows that overall:

    • 70% of street involved Vancouver youth have used crystal meth
    • 10% of Victoria high school youth have tried it
    • 19% of lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered (LGBT) youth have used it
    • 19% of Aboriginal youth have used it
    • 43% of youth attending the Victoria Youth Empowerment Society drop-ins reported using crystal meth

The Research Project

As part of the research project, McGhee asked six young people who used crystal meth to photo-document, using disposable cameras he provided, anything to do with crystal meth, in any way they chose. The photographs became the central visual images of the video, Reduce Speed, and served as catalysts for sharing important stories that were integrated into the video. Other perspectives captured in the video include those of police officers with expert knowledge of designer drugs, health and mental health workers, and youth outreach workers. These voices reflect the broader perspective of the community and professional understanding of crystal meth.

To understand why this is a drug worth paying attention to, Doug McGhee says that just as Hepatitis C was a secondary wave which followed the surge of crack cocaine use, we can expect—and need to mitigate and prepare for—a tremendous number of cognitively-impaired youth following the first wave of widely-used crystal meth.

The Findings

The qualitative findings of McGhee’s research resonate with the current literature on crystal meth use. The experiences of the participants of the study:

  • Reinforced the need for a continuum of services including:

    • targeted preventive/early intervention services—particularly for girls, Aboriginals, street-involved youth and LBGT individuals
    • accessible health services for street-involved youth
  • Identified the value of peer educators

  • Confirmed users had experienced feelings of isolation and suicidal thoughts

  • Indicated some had entered sex work as a consequence

  • Each knew at least one friend who had become psychotic

  • Each had found a path away from crystal meth by:

    • leaving the scene
    • tapering
    • switching to other drugs then quitting, or
    • attending detox and treatment

The process of undertaking the research project was ultimately fascinating, concerning and encouraging for McGhee. The insights youth participants shared strengthened his interest in increasing awareness and capacity within local health care services to effectively respond to people who are at risk or are using crystal meth. Towards that end, he provides educational seminars and is currently developing a shared-care program in Victoria, working with other physicians and psychiatrists to develop joint approaches for dealing with crystal meth-induced psychosis. To increase his own knowledge, he now works with a variety of community agencies and experiential youth in Victoria.

 
About the author
Victoria is on the Visions Editorial Board. She was formerly in the provincial Adult Mental Health Division for 9 years and is currently Manager of Research in the Ministry of Health Planning
Footnotes:
  1. Pacific Community Resources. (2002). www.pcrs.ca
  2. McCreary Centre. (2002). Between the cracks. See www.mcs.bc.ca/rs_new.htm
  3. Victoria Youth Empowerment Society. (2002). Annual Report. For more information, contact vyes@ultranet.ca
  4. Martin, I. & McGhee, D. (2003). The methamphetamine study of youth (MASY). Preliminary, unpublished data presented at the Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine Conference, October.

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