It’s “just a point” of crystal meth, Angela says. No big deal. But the fix will send her into orbit.
In a graffiti-filled Windsor alley mid-afternoon, she pierces the crook of her arm, slowly pulls wine-red blood into the syringe, and “smashes” a .1-gram blast of methamphetamine hydrochloride into her vein.
The rocket rush immediately takes her.
“I hate that I love it so much,” said Angela, 26, who has used crystal meth for a decade, injecting it the last four. “Other than the extreme burst of energy it gives you, I just feel super confident.”
Angela, her street name, now often wakes up and for breakfast pops a morphine pill followed shortly by a shot of crystal meth – or methamphetamine, a potent psychostimulant.
“If I have been on a binge I have to do at least a pill in the morning,” she said. “But a pill puts me on the downs, so I have to get up with crystal.”
She started doing drugs at 14 — a line of cocaine, supplied by her 19-year-old boyfriend — when she moved out from her parents’ place.
“I was with an older crowd and we started doing pickups in Montreal,” Angela recalled of her introduction to the underworld. “It came in capsule form then. But I started doing coke before I ever tried weed or drank alcohol. Then I started doing crystal. I didn’t bang it then, I only ingested it or snorted it.”
Now she runs her own operation. Dips into her own stuff, too.
“Sometimes you don’t think you’re getting high,” she said. “But by the time you realize you’re so high, you even have to monitor your breathing.”
Well-spoken and friendly, she does not look like the stereotypical skinny, jittery, scabbed mess that some meth-heads become. In an ironic twist, she studied addictions at college. Still, Angela cannot escape meth’s grip.
She is not alone. A number of local agencies warn that crystal meth – popularized by the stylish hit cable TV show Breaking Bad, about a genius high school chemistry teacher turned drug dealer – is exploding in Windsor.
“Crystal meth is growing rapidly,” said Dale Richardson, coordinator of Withdrawal Management Services at Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare. “It’s so in abundance out there.”
Richardson can’t say for sure why crystal meth has spiked. He suspects, however, the cheap cost and long high seem too good to pass up for addicts, especially those moving away from opioids, such as OxyContin which was replaced in 2013 with the more tamper-resistant OxyNEO.
In 2010, for instance, Richardson’s program helped 37 people with crystal meth addictions. This year, through to the beginning of December, that number rose to 222. In five years, crystal meth has jumped from two per cent of Withdrawal Management Services admissions to 12 per cent. The drug is used by males roughly 2 ½ times more than females.
“It’s been known as Hillbilly Heroin,” Richardson said. “It’s very addictive. The thing is, when you’re coming down you crave more.”
Richardson considers the drug’s spell particularly severe.
“It affects people’s bodies and teeth,” he said. “They tend to pick at their skin. They think spiders are crawling on them. They have hallucinations. They’re paranoid. They grind their teeth. They eat a lot of sweets. They go on highs for three, four, five days, without bathing. They smell pretty rancid at times when they come in.”
The physical effects of methamphetamine include: anorexia, hyperactivity, dilated pupils, flushed skin, excessive sweating, dry mouth, “meth mouth” (jaw clenching), rotting teeth, headaches, irregular heartbeat, a change in blood pressure, diarrhea, constipation, blurred vision, twitching, acne, pallor and more.
Richardson finds crystal meth users difficult to deal with, as if they operate in overdrive but go nowhere.
“They’re speeding,” he said. “They pace a lot. They have different types of hallucinations. They talk and talk and talk and don’t say anything.”
That’s where Withdrawal Management Services comes in: helping those who cannot help themselves. Crystal meth has trapped a wide range of people, though it seems to have zeroed in on younger people.
“We hear about crystal meth far more than we hear about any other drug, including crack,” said Tamara Kowalksa, executive director of the Windsor Youth Centre. “It’s more accessible than other hard drugs because of the cost and simply because it seems to be a lot more prevalent these days.”
Crystal meth can differ slightly in appearance, with crystals, chunks, and fine-course powders, and typically appears off-white to pale yellow in color. It’s sold loose in bags or in capsules. It usually costs $15 to $20 for a tenth of a gram, which can provide a high lasting up to three hours, depending on individual tolerance. Users can smoke, eat, snort and inject it.
Crystal meth is one of the reasons Kowalksa’s organization formed the Up 2 U program, where young people support other youth battling addictions.
Windsor police spokesman Const. Andrew Drouillard said officers see more crystal meth these days, but don’t feel it has yet exploded on the street – in part because of preventative policing.
“It’s becoming more of an issue in Canada and it’s starting to peak in Windsor a little bit,” Drouillard said. “But we’re getting ahead of the curve so our DIGS (drugs, intelligence, guns and surveillance) unit and PAVIS (the multi-force Provincial Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy) are on top of it, trying to get it off the streets.”
Besides harming themselves, Drouillard added, addicts pose a risk to others.
“There is a direct correlation with various drug-related crimes like property crimes, break-and-enters, assaults,” Drouillard said. “It can often lead to crime when you have somebody who’s trying to seek out money to support their habit.”
Byron Klingbyle, the HIV/IDU outreach prevention coordinator at the AIDS Committee of Windsor, worries that crystal meth will soon erupt.
“It’s going to be an epidemic, for sure,” said Klingbyle, whose program helps addicts with food and counseling services. “It’s going to be more prevalent than crack cocaine and powdered cocaine.
“It’s going to take over.”
Klingbyle said, for whatever reason, crystal meth started gaining strength in Chatham about four years ago, but only caught fire in Windsor over the last year or so.
“There are less people using crack cocaine and powdered cocaine and more people using crystal meth for a simple reason: it’s cheaper,” he said. “With crack cocaine, your euphoric high is 20 minutes. On crystal meth, your high is six to eight hours, depending on how much you use.”
A $50 piece of crack might last a couple of hours. A user can ride the same price of crystal meth all night long. But it costs in other ways.
Klingbyle has seen users hit rock bottom after just a few months on crystal meth.
“It damages serotonin and dopamine receptors,” Klingbyle said. “So when you stop using crystal meth you’re not getting as much serotonin and dopamine, which leads to depression.”
Klingbyle thinks front-line action – treatment centers, harm-reduction programs – need boosting in order to properly deal with the problem. The AIDS Committee of Windsor, for instance, offers a needle exchange and “safe inhalation kits,” pipes made of Pyrex so that they don’t as easily break, since glass chips can cut users and spread viruses such as hepatitis C and HIV. Klingbyle also notes that crystal meth leads to unsafe sex since when people are high, they tend to go longer and try riskier behavior.
He encourages anyone struggling with drug addiction to seek out a number of treatment or counseling programs. Crystal meth scares him more than most drugs do.
“It’s horrible,” he said. “It’s not going to be nice.
“But people can get off any drug if they’re determined enough.”
Lester Dorsey, who has struggled with substance abuse in the past, said he escaped crystal meth after only one month of using it – because he saw signs of the apocalypse.
“I like the euphoric feeling. For me, it was very sexual — what I mean is the warmth,” Dorsey said. “But I started seeing things that weren’t there. I saw the Four Horsemen (of the Apocalypse). They were standing in front of me. Because I was high, I was trying to communicate with them.”
He decided then and there to go cold turkey, ditching crystal meth. So far, so good – but the temptation may never fully disappear.
Also known as meth, speed, crystal, cries, tweak, jib, Tina, and ice, crystal meth is a synthetic stimulant that affects the central nervous system. It revs up heart rate and boosts wakefulness. It stimulates the part of the brain that controls pleasure, fine motor skills, sex drive and energy levels.
Euphoria feels strong, but the crash harsh. It also increases a smorgasbord of side-effects, such as: irritability, restlessness, insomnia, anxiety, panic, paranoia, hallucinations, aggression, anti-social behavior, depression and suicidal tendencies.
Overdoses trigger such problems as hostility, fever, respiratory distress, comas and, at its extreme, death.
“Jane” first sampled crystal meth after a fiancé left her for it a year ago. She says she married the drug instead.
“Now I understand why he left me for it,” she said recently in an interview with The Windsor Star. “I really don’t blame him now. I’m angry, but I don’t blame him.
“Now I’m in love with the drug. I really am.”
Jane, who is in her late 30s and did not want to give her real name, feels swallowed whole by crystal meth.
She has lost everything: fiancé, money, family, friends.
”I get so high it takes me out of this world,” said Jane, dressed in pink pajama bottoms and a black parka, who has used the drug daily since starting a year ago. “When I do crystal meth, I’m in another world.”
Jane, who smoked crack for 10 years before switching her drug of choice, feels buried deeper than ever before.
“Every drug that you can put in a needle, I’ve done,” said Jane, whose sunken cheeks hint at recent weight loss. “Crystal meth is worse than any of them. I wake up and it’s the first thing I think of. I do it till I go to sleep. It’s very addicting. I don’t know what they put in it. It scares me.”
The list of toxic ingredients changes somewhat from cook to cook, but based on ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, a shocking cocktail of dangerous chemicals sometimes help make meth: cough medicine, lighter fluid, lithium strips from batteries, hydrogen chloride gas, ether from spray cans, propane and more. And meth labs, fuelled by everyday products bought at home improvement stores, pop up in warehouses, basements, garages, apartments, etc.
“The cons outweigh the pros of this drug a million to one,” said Angela, recounting the woes she and friends have suffered at the point of a syringe. “I’ve watched people pick their faces off, or shave their heads because they thought something was there. Some people get very paranoid and think everyone’s plotting against them. I’ve had a friend think someone was poisoning his food and drinks.”
Angela said once she started “banging” – or injecting – crystal meth, no other drug seemed to suffice. She largely dropped crack. Alcohol, forget it. She still swallows pain pills. But crystal meth – she’s tired and sore without it — nothing quite matches its lure. Nor its sway.
“People say a crack-head will steal your stuff,” she said. “But a meth-head will steal your stuff and help you look for it.”