Wednesday April 16, 2014

Community tackles 'brutal drug'

Local agencies aim to reduce meth addiction
Keith Anderson

Rotary Club of Mission Mid-day members Mary and Gordy Robson speak about crystal meth during Monday evening's talk with community leaders and Rotary members about crystal meth at the TRU Clocktower Theatre.

When someone says they want to get off crystal meth, you put them in the car and get them to a 90-day treatment program — no hesitations.

When a community bands together to do that, things happen. People living on the streets vanish. Crime goes down. Lives are saved.

That’s what happened in Maple Ridge 10 years ago, when the Rotary Club there decided to do something about the homeless people who were congregating at a Salvation Army Caring Place.

Gordy Robson, a Rotarian, former mayor of Maple Ridge and ex-owner of a mall that became Lansdowne Village in Kamloops, was among those driving the community task force that got those results.

He and his wife Mary were in Kamloops on Monday night to talk about their experience, what worked and what didn’t. They came at the behest of the Kamloops Daybreak Rotary, which is looking at tackling crystal meth here.

Debra Sloat with the Daybreak Rotary said the RCMP brought the idea to the club to see if there might be a fit in Kamloops.

Kamloops RCMP Supt. Brad Mueller said police are seeing more meth users, more related meth seizures and arrests and an increase in property crimes.

Last spring, his detachment had its biggest seizure of meth — 1.5 kilograms, which translates to 15,000 doses.

About 45 people gathered at the Thompson Rivers University Clocktower theatre to hear the Robsons’ experience and ask questions.

Gordy Robson said the task force took the approach of dealing with crystal meth addiction as an illness, not a crime. Three sub-groups were formed — education, enforcement and treatment — and each was given 30 days to come up with a three-month plan of action.

“To not do anything is not acceptable,” he said.

Meth addiction is cyclical, and if an addict is caught at the right time, he or she will want help, he said.

“When they want help, you put them in a car and get them treatment right away.”

Maple Ridge had 130 people from police to bylaws to education to health to volunteers working at getting meth addicts off the streets. Most of the people on the streets weren’t transients, but residents of the community, he said.

Accessing 90-day treatment beds was probably the biggest challenge, Robson said.

In the audience, Patrick McDonald from the Phoenix Centre detox facility in Kamloops agreed. He wasn’t sure where people in need of that long a stay would go; locally there are limited programs and limited beds.

While the community sees drug use as a problem, the user sees it as a solution and a need, he said.

Meth was a popular drug more than a decade ago, when some Phoenix staff cobbled together a Meth Kickers program. The drug eventually waned, but is seeing another rise.

“It’s a brutal drug,” McDonald said.

Mueller said police want to take a proactive approach to what appears to be a rise in meth use.

“It’s not an epidemic, but a trend,” he said.

“It’s such a devastating drug.”

One First Nations man in the audience commended the speakers for their efforts.

“I’ve seen moms use in front of their kids. That’s why I’m not in my community,” he said.

Mayor Peter Milobar said there’s already a co-ordinated enforcement task force that puts together several social agencies, bylaws and the RCMP. But community support is also vital.

“There are a lot of good pieces in place, but it can’t be just government agencies,” he said.

Sloat asked anyone interested to sign up for more information. She is hoping to carry interest over into the new year, and get three task force groups going to create their 90-day plans to battle crystal meth in Kamloops.

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