RUNNIN' WITH THE DEVIL
His alarm clock would sound for the first time at 6 a.m. but Frank, a self-described snoozer, would hit the delay button and go back to sleep.
When he had to be at work by 7 a.m., he developed a routine. When the second alarm went off, he would find his glass pipe, drop in some crystal methamphetamine, hold a lighter underneath, but not quite touching.
When the crystallized version of speed began to boil, he would inhale the vapour then roll over and go back to sleep.
"It was like a strong shot of caffeine in the morning. By the time the next alarm comes you are ready to go," says Frank. "You get so much confidence, you don't have that grogginess and you are ready for the day. You've got the confidence to function, you can do anything."
Smoking crystal meth first thing in the morning didn't convince Frank, 20, that he had a problem. Thinking back on it now, he admits it was a stupid thing to have even tried last spring.
He has a medical training and background.
He comes from a good stable home. But he also had an experimental interest in drugs.
He's tried it all, he says--marijuana, acid, mushrooms, ecstasy, some GHB.
He read about the drugs, took calculated risks and figured he knew his stuff. He was careful.
"When I was doing E (Ecstacy) and stuff, I set a line, like I'd never do coke, meth or heroin," he says. "Coke was more the bar scene and I wasn't into that."
He was into the rave scene where ecstasy, marijuana and new-comer GHB ruled. His first exposure to crystal meth came at a rave dance.
He knew all about it, read the literature out there and he turned down his first opportunity.
But that decision didn't last long.
"Surprisingly I had to call a dozen people to find some. It's not as easy to get as you might hear. If you were to go downtown you could find some maybe but I steer clear of that shit. I never buy that brown dirty stuff they talk about."
If this is beginning to sound like an advertisement for crystal meth, this is where it changes.
To ignore the euphoric effects of the drug and to simply say don't do it isn't going to work, he says. If you want to know the truth, you have to know what the drug actually does.
"Of all the drugs I have ever done, it is the most functional drug," he says. "You can carry on a perfect normal life--as long as you can sleep. If you sleep and eat, you can use probably use meth the rest of your life."
But no one does. They can't. And neither could Frank.
While he could function, exist and even excel in certain aspects of life, that quickly changed. And the hardest thing he has ever done is try functioning again without it.
It took four months to nearly ruin his life.
And after five months clean, he is still trying to collect the pieces of his life: lost friends, lost jobs, lost credibility and trust, lost memory and lost weight.
When four Okanagan University College nursing students took on the growing crystal meth phenomenon on Kelowna's streets as a research project, they came to a similar conclusion as Frank.
When talking about meth, they want to use only the facts and discard the many myths circulating out there.
Chandra Burnell, Chris Mah, Candace Funk and Sheila Price quickly learned the dangers of addiction and overdose. They also know the drug is tempting for young people like Frank and for many people living on the street.
They are producing free materials featuring their findings and hoping to reach kids and street youth. They tried to avoid the dogma of the war on drugs and speak plainly and accurately about the risks. One of their biggest concerns was within the medical profession itself.
"Some people were categorizing meth with other drugs on the street like marijuana," says Price. "Meth has very different effects on the body. This is a toxic substance. Some drugs might not have the same long-term detrimental effects."
Methamphetamine goes by many names, including speed, ice or jib. Some call it Kim and others just call it More because once you try it, well, you always need more.
It can be swallowed, injected or snorted but the latest iteration of this drug is crystallized so it can be smoked.
Police believe that speed was, like cocaine, less desirable for many because it had to be ingested, snorted or injected.
There is a common myth that smoking reduces that harm but it's exactly the opposite.
The lungs carry the drug directly to the brain; it's the quickest route, the fastest way to addiction and crack cocaine and crystal meth hide under that banner.
Crystal meth looks a little like crushed glass, burns under a flame, and the vapour is smoked with glass or rubber tubes.
In the 1960s, '70s and '80s, meth began its affair with a drug using public.
University students and long haul truck drivers used it to stay awake, but the powerful stimulant also made it attractive for recreational drug users.
New and cheaper methods of production have brought it back with alarming frequency. It swept like a wave over the US and finally noticed in Canada sometime around 2002.
It garnered almost immediate attention in Washington state, Alberta and now B.C.
The provincial government took notice in August 2004, two years after a provincial RCMP squad said it was taking down some 30 meth labs a year around the province.
The Ministry of Health Services,Mental Health and Addictions created a provincial strategy for dealing with the problem.
Studies show only about four per cent of school kids have experimented with meth, but that number is growing.
According to the OUC nursing students, that figure is closer to six per cent in the Okanagan (still four per cent elsewhere in B.C.).
Meth is a powerful stimulant, producing a strong immediate high when smoked and can last for hours. The user feels strong, confident, smart.
They are alert and reactive with little interest in sleep or food and increased sex drive and often results in weight loss.It's a long list of desirable elements.
Single mothers are turning to it so they can stay alert with children, then party all night and still get up in the morning.
Students use it for a cheap weekend-long-high and study sessions. It's sought for rave parties and others have turned to it for weight-loss. Among street users, it alleviates for a time the need to eat or sleep or feel cold or sadness.
Of course, there is the downside. Overdose can occur with small amounts as the heart begins to race, the body overheats and when it comes, death is most likely due to a violent convulsion.
Since 2000, 31 people in B.C. have died of meth overdose; most of them were between 19 and 21 years old.
Addiction comes quickly, as the user chases the high to keep it going. The drug stimulates the body's stores of dopamine, designed by nature to created a feeling of well-being and reward.
But instead of recycling the dopamine naturally, the body spends it with crystal meth and cannot recover.
That means either suffering through months of depression to increase the body's stores or take more of the drug just to maintain any semblance of being normal.
Price became interested in studying crystal meth after working in the Kelowna General Hospital psychiatric department.
Among her patients were youth who had used it and developed psychoses in a short period of time.
"They had literally lost their ability to function in our community. They have long-term neurological damage and that can happen sometimes after one or two uses," Price says.
"Usually after someone comes off a drug, they come back to normal and they regain their ability to function in society but they weren't regaining that ability.
"One woman said it was like her son was in a confined environment. He can't remember how to do these things like brushing his teeth or putting on clothes."
There appears to be some confusion about exactly what causes these episodes--the methamphetamine itself, needless additions or the lack of sleep and food.
Speed keeps you awake, keeps your heart pumping, blood flowing, mind racing.
There's nothing left to digest food and when binging, a user can go days without sleep.
Frank once spent 60 hours on a continuous high without any sleep. The effect on his mind and body was dangerous and five months later he is still recovering.
Part of the problem with studies of crystal meth is a varying list of ingredients used to make it.
Elaborate recipes are easily found on the Internet but how it's made, packaged and sold on the street is an entirely different matter.
"No one using those sorts of drugs has any idea what's in it," says Const.
Don Powell of the Kelowna RCMP drug section. "These guys use whatever they can. The RCMP has analyzed these drugs and what being sold as the drugs can have all other kinds of stuff in it."
Making crystal meth is a complicated process best left to scientists in a laboratory.
But on the street, meth cooks use what's most easily available and most of it is.
Cooks need three basic ingredients: red phosphorous (the striking pad on
matches) and a method to extract it.
They need pseudoe-pinephrine, a common ingredient in Sudafed and Sinutab and a way to separate the pure pseud. They also require iodine crystals and muriatic acid, found in hardware stores.
The menace of crystal meth still pales in frequency to crack cocaine as the drug of choice on Kelowna's streets, but Powell says it is quickly catching up.
"Crystal meth has increased exponentially, probably tripled over the last year," Powell says.
"Crystal meth is more of a younger person drug. We come across people doing crack who are from teens up into their 50s but meth is mostly in the young and early 20s. In the next two to three years it will overtake crack cocaine."
Though meth labs haven't been located in the Central Okanagan for the last couple of years, a steady supply makes its way to the streets.
It's cheap at $5 to $10 for a point (a tenth of a gram) and the high can last for hours whereas crack cocaine is a quick high hit that needs to be replenished.
Meth users often find, however, that a meth trip becomes similar to crack:
eventually you use it many times a day to chase after that original high.
Frank sits in a trendy coffee shop. He's fit and healthy, though at one point he lost 20 pounds off his already slender frame.
"You know how cigarettes can suppress appetite?" he says. "Meth takes it out back and shoots it. It's a struggle to eat."
He watches a man enter the cafe and something about his mannerisms triggers Frank's radar. The man is skinny and something about the way he holds his head high and refuses to touch the carafe of cream or open the door with his hands has Frank convinced.
He's using crystal meth, Frank guesses. He recalls how, while under the influence himself, he struggled trying to control his mind,
He became paranoid that everyone knew he was hooked on crystal meth and he was afraid of the stigma.
Other meth users have been known to fixate. On their skin, for example, as they slowly pick away at scabs on their arms, faces and body.
After hours, perhaps days on a meth binge, you begin to see the effects on a person. Known as "tweaking," the lack of sleep and nutrition causes hallucinations and causes the user to twitch and dance wildly.
A "tweaker" is unpredictable. The nursing students presented to RCMP auxiliary officers last month some recommendations on how to handle someone on meth.
"The normal methods that law enforcement is using to interact with drug users, usually based on a show of force is not going to be effective with crystal meth users," Funk says.
"When tweaking on the drug, they have incredible strength and drive and no pain receptors. Inducing pain is not going to stop them and their behaviour is unpredictable."
Frank began to lie. To his friends, his parents, at work.
He told lies to cover his lies, his sudden absences, his uncharacteristic unreliability.
He couldn't remember anything and had to write down list upon list to remind himself. Often the top of each was "find old lists".
"You become carried away with life. You're lying through your teeth and living in an alternate world. The lies become your world and you have to sustain your lies. I was terrified that anyone would find out."
It took just a month before he realized he had a problem and another three before he became desperate.
Fate dealt him an ace of spades; for four days he found himself without any dope.
"I was trying. I was phoning friends, I lied to work, said I couldn't come in, but I am sitting at the mall because I'm waiting for this dude to bring me something," he says.
"In that four days I was exhausted, sleeping 16 to 18 hours day, just pass out and drop."
He was on top of the world four months earlier, buoyed by a new agent in his veins. Like a virus, it desperately wanted to stay. He wanted it to stay. He had no energy to try living without it.
He had crashed his car, which he needed for work. He was smoking more than a gram a day; roughly $500 a week.
"I would have killed myself; my brother saved my life," he says.
"You just crave it. It's like it causes a borderline personality disorder that you can only suppress with more meth. When you are not on it, you are empty and you want something, no matter what it is."
He thought he could handle it and though some can, he says it's a risk he shouldn't have taken. Sheila Price says that's what she wants others to know.
"What we are trying to say is you have to take smart risks and if you are going to take drugs, please don't take this one.
"We want the youth in the community to know that this is a deadly drug, perhaps after one or two uses. It's highly addictive."
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