Police use DVD to warn youths about synthetic drugs and clandestine labs
But some health officials aren't enthusiastic about it and suggest police focus elsewhere
That little pill, purchased on the street from a friend of a friend, may look like it was produced in a pristine laboratory by chemists in white coats, but the reality is quite different.
Chances are, it's a mix of unknown quantities of toxic chemicals, such as acetone, ammonia, starter fuel and iodine, slopped together in a makeshift lab by criminals planning to make a quick buck by selling synthetic drugs such as methamphetamines and ecstasy to kids who won't ask questions.
That's the message in a new DVD produced by the RCMP to educate young people about the dangers of such drugs and raise awareness among adults about the clandestine labs that are being set up by criminal gangs in every area across the country, including city suburbs.
"This neighbourhood could be any neighbourhood in Canada. Your neighbourhood," says the opening voice-over as the camera pans a typical residential street scene. Then, as police bust into a house and handcuff a resident, the voice asks: "Do you know what your neighbours are up to?"
The video warns that clandestine labs, known as clan labs, are operating in neighbourhoods across Canada and producing drugs in huge numbers, for sale locally and in the U.S. In 2007, police seized 4.5 million ecstasy tablets and 1.7 million doses of methamphetamine.
Then abruptly, the action moves to a rave, with electronic music, dancing bodies and drugged up teenagers.
"Our main target is the kids," explained Staff Sgt. Pierre Mudie from the national RCMP Drug and Organized Crime Awareness Service, which is distributing the DVD nationwide. The hope is that it will be shown to high-school teenagers, university and college students, first responders and other members of the community, but details will be worked out by provincial detachments, he added.
Canada is a hot spot for clan labs, and British Columbia is busier than most provinces because many of the chemical precursors for synthetic drugs enter the country through the Port of Vancouver, said Staff Sgt. Dave Goddard, media relations officer for the RCMP's Greater Vancouver Drug Section. "It is a fairly prolific problem in the Lower Mainland."
Last year, the RCMP found evidence of 30 clan labs operating in B.C. So far this year, they've located five meth labs, one lab each for cocaine packaging, psilocybin and mescaline and three chemical dumps.
The DVD asks members of the public to watch for telltale signs of clan labs -- such as chemical smells coming from a house or garage, or solvent and chemical containers on a property or in the garbage.
Synthetic drug labs are popular among criminal organizations because cooking up pills is a quick way to make money -- much faster than growing marijuana. The clan labs discovered by police in B.C. are almost always "super labs" operated by gangs rather than the mom-and-pop meth labs that are often found in the U.S., Goddard said.
"They can be anywhere -- in hotel rooms, in the backs of trucks, in storage facility places, warehousing complexes. You don't need an awful lot of space. What you need is privacy, and of course the province lends itself to that. We have a lot of these chemical labs being located in the rural districts of B.C."
The DVD issues a warning about the danger of ingesting illicit drugs without knowing anything about the ingredients. The effects are unpredictable but can include paranoia, fear and damaged brain cells and can lead to violence, accidents and suicides, it says, adding that in some cases, the pills may be lethal.
Mudie said he expected an all-around positive reaction to the 15-minute video. But even before its release, some were questioning police involvement in a DVD offering health messages about drug use.
Professor Benedikt Fischer, of Simon Fraser University's health sciences faculty, said he supports efforts to raise awareness about the perils of synthetic drugs but believes such work should be done by health professionals not police, who don't have medical expertise and often rely on stereotypes to deliver their messages.
Furthermore, he said the use of methamphetamines has declined, despite the fear that swept the country a few years ago about a potential meth epidemic. If police want to tackle the drug that poses the greatest risk for young people, they should focus their attention on alcohol, Fischer said.
Provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall was also unenthusiastic about the video. Although he hadn't seen it, he said scare campaigns and onetime interventions, such as a DVD screening, are a waste of time. "They don't work," he suggested. "The literature is pretty explicit about that."
They can even be dangerous for young people who are already tempted by drugs because they give the impression that usage is more common than it is, he added.
But SFU criminologist Ray Corrado, who specializes in youth crime, said a DVD with a catchy style and a powerful message can have an impact on all but the hard-core teenagers. "If you can get a popular, appealing spin, kids will watch it," he said.
Anecdotal evidence suggests the budding popularity of crystal meth a few years ago was defeated by a campaign that projected repulsive images of compulsive skin picking by addicts, which caused open sores on hands, arms and faces.
The RCMP's DVD is expected to make its debut on YouTube later this spring.
BY JANET STEFFENHAGEN,
MAY 12, 2010
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