When hungry people are turning to meth, policing doesn't reach root cause, doctor says

·3 min read
Dr. Sara Davidson says people often turn to meth out of desperation, to tolerate sleeping in the cold or quiet their hunger pains. (Gary Moore/CBC - image credit)
Dr. Sara Davidson says people often turn to meth out of desperation, to tolerate sleeping in the cold or quiet their hunger pains. (Gary Moore/CBC - image credit)

An increase in methamphetamine use in Fredericton is a symptom of a lack of resources for vulnerable people, a family doctor says.

Police Chief Roger Brown said in July that an increase in meth use corresponds with an increase in assault and property crimes.

Fredericton Insp. Mike Berry, a co-leader of a police effort called the Atlantic Meth Strategy, pointed the finger at outlaw motorcycle gangs. He said he'd like to see stiffer sentences for traffickers and dealers but not for individual users.

But Dr. Sara Davidson, the medical director at the River Stone Recovery Centre, said the root causes for the increase in meth addiction are at the society level, in housing and food insecurity, for example. She said until these causes are dealt with, the drug problem will remain.

"It's an incredibly cheap drug," she told Information Morning Fredericton. "It's a drug of desperation, not want of recreation, especially among the vulnerable populations that are living rough or have mental health issues at baseline."

Until we eliminate why people are turning to meth to cope, we're really not going to be able to to police that out of our system. - Dr. Sara Davidson

Davidson also said people turn to meth if they don't have a safe, warm place to sleep and also to quiet their hunger if they don't have access to food.

"Until we eliminate why people are turning to meth to cope, we're really not going to be able to to police that out of our system."

Berry has said the drug is also dangerous for the users. It can cause paranoia, hallucinations, and prevent people from being able to go to sleep, sometime for weeks.

Davidson repeated this point.

"If they need to stay awake because they're out all night long walking or sleeping on a park bench or in a tent, you know, in a huge rainstorm, they can stay alert enough," she said.

A conversation about drug use has been going on in Fredericton since a tent encampment was removed last week, and drug use has become more public.

Davidson said there has always been a drug problem in the city, but the pandemic has made it more visible to the general population.

"It is still here and it's not getting any better," she said. "It's still devastating a lot of people's lives. And because of COVID-19 and the lack of informal hangout spots for people, there's just a lot more people that are visible."

Davidson said part of addressing the root issue includes providing mental health support to deal with trauma and psychosis, as well as reducing the social isolation that comes with being a current or recovering drug user.

She said housing, food, and counselling are the essential components to deal with the heart of the issue. Long-term rehab beds are essential but not the "wrap-around" solution.

Shifting priorities

Every level of government needs to be involved in being part of the solution, she said, and Fredericton's renewed focus on housing is helping. She also said the police force's presence at organized campsites has shifted its role in the community.

"That let the police stop being a force of pushing people along and destabilizing, and actually started to become a force that they could actually provide support and connect and get to know some of these people," she said.

This is the kind of refocusing that's moving the city and the province in the right direction, Davidson said.

She said people live with addiction for years and have likely tried quitting and detoxing, but social isolation and stigma cause them to relapse.

"We do need a new approach with a sophisticated way to look at substance use disorder."

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