Thank you for this opportunity to speak to the committee and to tell my story of loving someone who is addicted to meth.
Recently, my son wrote me a short note in which he expressed his love for me, his thankfulness for my ongoing support and his pledge to himself to once again try for sobriety.
He wrote the note on September 26 of this year, about four days prior to learning that his bed date was going to be October 18. By his math, he could continue to use meth for about another nine days. He would then attempt to detox himself so he could enter the program clean. On admission day, he was tested and immediately sent to detox. He went on to complete the 28-day program, returned to Brandon and immediately relapsed. This scenario has played out numerous times over the last six years.
The first 18 years of my son's life were normal by today's standards. I raised him mostly as a single parent. He was a model child, an athlete, a popular boy. He graduated from high school, went on to attend university and made it on to the men's basketball team. Everything he had ever wanted in his life was right there for the taking, but his dreams of playing basketball ended when using drugs became more important.
For 11 years now I've watched my son slowly succumb to the world of drugs, to marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, crack and meth. Of all the drugs he has used, meth is the one that won't allow him to function in life. With the other drugs, he was still trying to get his education, play basketball and hold down a job. Meth took everything away except his need for the drug.
Meth is an ugly drug. It has been called the “evil” drug and having witnessed my son under the influence of it and also withdrawing from it, I can attest to the darkness in which it shrouds the substance user. The violence that comes with the drug is very real. Homemade weapons are a necessity for the paranoia that comes with using meth. I have been witness to the extreme behaviour that propels someone on meth to barricade their home from whatever evil it is that makes them do it.
My son tells me that he doesn't want to do bad things, but he has a genuine fear of the evil that manifests in his mind. This evil is the violence that service providers talk about. It's the “get them before they get me” psychosis that propels someone on meth to become violent.
It is impossible for anyone to understand the pain a mother feels when her child is hurting and she knows she can do nothing about it. We fix things. We're moms. We can do anything—but I can't fix this one.
Two years ago, after nine years of hoping things would turn around for my son, I gave in to the exhaustion that comes with loving a substance user. I took an eight-week leave from my job and used that time to grieve the loss of my son as I've always known him to be. I had a new normal and it was time to get on with it. After my eight-week hiatus from life, I made a decision to share my story with my community as a way to ring the alarm bell about the meth crisis upon us. I did this with my son's permission to share his story with mine.
In July of 2017, I shared my concern with my city's council. Since then, I have been advocating non-stop to raise awareness about meth and its impacts on a community. I see this advocacy as contributing to my community's willingness to address the meth issue we currently face.
The City of Brandon and our Brandon School Division sponsored five sessions last week called NEO, “Not Even Once: Brandon Fighting Addiction”, which featured well-known speaker and advocate Joe Roberts, the “Skid Row CEO” and founder of Push for Change. He presented to each of our three high schools and also gave an open evening session for service providers and other interested individuals.
Our Brandon Police Service has added two members to its crime support unit, a drug investigator focused on meth and a youth intelligence officer focused on youth who have been exploited, are missing or have run away due in part to meth.
We have a community mobilization unit. These are service providers who collaborate on services for citizens with risk factors that lead to emergent response from police, health and other agencies. A steady uptake in meth use has increased the need for resources beyond what is currently available.
In October, our Prairie Mountain Health opened a rapid access to addictions medicine clinic, which is open twice weekly for two hours. They also offer a needle exchange program, with 30,000 needles distributed in 2017.
Addictions Foundation of Manitoba has increased its crystal meth presentations in communities, some detoxing and longer stays have been added to their current programming, and they have improved their pathway planning.
The Canadian Mental Health Association is in the process of developing supportive recovery services for addiction and those in recovery to learn to live a productive life.
Our Brandon Friendship Centre has numerous options available to provide programs and services for aboriginal people, and it recently held a forum in the community about meth.
Brandon Bear Clan Patrol does twice-weekly patrols by volunteers with the purpose of providing a sense of safety, solidarity and belonging to both its members and to the community they serve. In 2017, the Bear Clan picked up 50 needles in our community. In 2018, to date, they have picked up more than 550 needles.
Westman Families of Addicts is a support group started in 2017 that currently supports 206 families in the Westman region who have been affected by meth.
Last week, the Government of Manitoba made two announcements that will assist in addressing the fallout from meth use in our province. A request for proposals for in-province residential treatment has been sent out by the government with a submission deadline for January 15, 2019. The intent is to provide service to 15 individuals per year with concurrent mental health and addictions disorders. Also, in the coming months, a tendered contract will be awarded to provide long-term withdrawal—detox—management beds. The number of detox beds has yet to be determined.
Very positive progress has been made so far, but based on my personal experience, we have a long way to go as a nation. I am in agreement with what previous witnesses have recommended as steps to take going forward.
If we trust what history has taught us about meth, we know that it periodically cycles in and out of the drug world. Knowing this, I think it's imperative that we make illicit drug use a topic for our school system to integrate as part of their curriculum.
Dr. Gabor Maté references the fact that we have lost our human connection. He also said something that is important for all of us to remember as we move forward. There is no war on drugs, because you can't war against inanimate objects. There is only a war on drug addicts, which means we are warring against the most abused and vulnerable segments of society.
After 11 years of coping with my son's substance use disorder, I can honestly say that I wish it were over, one way or the other. Every time I hear a siren or the phone rings at odd hours, I wonder if this is the call. To some, this will make me sound like a terrible parent, but sometimes I do imagine that it is the call from which my son will finally have peace from the war that our society appears to be losing.