As a former crystal meth user, Bethany Spink knows how the dangerous and highly addictive drug can destroy lives.
Before eventually overcoming her own addictions to help others fight theirs, she lost her job, friends and even herself.
With use of crystal meth on the rise in Brandon, she wants to warn users to stop if they can and warn others to never go near its deceptive lure in the first place.
"It starts off as a good thing — you become more productive and stuff like that — but then it takes your soul," Spink said. "It takes everything."
Brandon police recently made two of its biggest crystal meth seizures.
One kilogram was seized in October as part of a large-scale drug investigation. Earlier this month, two men were pulled over with nearly 20 ounces of the drug worth $150,000, again as part of an ongoing investigation.
However, while those drugs are now off the street, the size of the seizures reflect the local demand for methamphetamine.
"Yes, we’re finding that the use of crystal meth is up in Brandon," said Brandon Police Service Sgt. Dave Andrew.
Andrew said the reason for the rise in meth use is likely its more intense and longer-lasting high in contrast to other drugs such as cocaine — and it’s cheaper.
He said it costs about $20 to $30 for 0.1 gram of crystal meth, while cocaine is $80 to $100 per gram.
Meth is smoked, it’s snorted, and increasingly here it’s injected because that provides a faster rush.
While fentanyl makes headlines, and Andrew said it would be naive to think that that dangerous drug isn’t here, it’s meth that has emerged in Brandon as a top drug.
"It’s becoming just as popular as cocaine," said Andrew, who spent a total of seven years in the Crime Support Unit, which investigates drug dealing, before becoming the BPS public information officer.
"People who are using this methamphetamine talk about the addiction and how they know how bad it is … but their addiction is so strong that they can’t break free from it."
Users of the stimulant experience euphoria, and sustained periods of being awake.
But the dangers and long-term effects are anything but pleasant — including damaged teeth and gums and skin, paranoia, psychosis, hallucinations and risk of stroke.
Andrew said the local trade in crystal meth isn’t tied to any specific gang. While it’s typically made in illegal labs, but to his knowledge it isn’t produced in Brandon or surrounding area.
It’s brought in by independent drug dealers from locations that have included Toronto and Winnipeg, and possibly British Columbia.
It seems easy to get from locations like bars or through a "dial-a-dealer."
No deaths or serious harm have been tied to Brandon users that police are aware of.
However, the need for meth users to support their addiction has been tied to serial shoplifting, other thefts and break-and-enters. Andrew said users will pawn, sell or trade stolen goods to get drugs.
Statistics from the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba also show that self-reported use of amphetamine, which would include crystal meth, is up for the office that serves Brandon and surrounding area.
The portion of clients who reported using amphetamine is relatively small, but has grown slightly. In 2016, 73 per cent of clients said they never used it, compared to 78.1 per cent in 2015.
In 2016, the percentage of those who used the stimulant monthly or less was 5.1 per cent; weekly, one per cent; daily or several times a day, 6.3 per cent. In 2015, those numbers were 4.3 per cent, 0.3 per cent and 2.7 per cent, respectively.
"We certainly are seeing more clients than in the past self-identifying as having used crystal meth," said John Jackson, registered psychiatric nurse and team lead at AFM’s Brandon office.
Jackson said that could be due to a general willingness in our society to experiment, combined with the highly addictive nature of meth.
"I think that there’s a willingness, and then when people are trying it’s a little more addictive than they anticipated," Jackson said.
He said that crystal meth addiction can be more of a struggle to overcome in the long term than other drugs. However, AFM offers counselling, group treatment and residential treatment.
For Spink, now 26, the Teen Challenge program was her path to recovery.
But as a former user, she can describe the dismay that crystal meth can lead to. Originally from Goderich, Ont., it’s there that her addiction began.
She’d turned to drugs to be socially accepted and to numb the pain of being sexually abused as a child by her grandfather.
At 12 years old, she’d started drinking, then tried marijuana and developed a crack cocaine addiction.
At 18, someone told her it would be easier to get off crack if she switched to meth, so she tried it.
She got hooked fast, and she kept drinking, and using crack and marijuana.
"It was all day, every day," Spink said of her meth use. "From the first time I used it, it was every day."
Dating a drug dealer, Spink found crystal meth easy to get. Other women were involved in prostitution to get crack or meth, but because she dated her supplier she didn’t have to. Meth was cheaper than crack, and lasted longer.
At first, meth made her feel productive. She said it kept her awake for three weeks to a month, then she’d sleep for two to three days straight.
"It keeps you awake until eventually you’re nuts, because you’ve been awake so long."
The withdrawal would be so bad, that she would turn back to meth.
"Eventually, it took everything from me," Spink said. "I would be up days at a time, and then the crash of it was so bad that you would go back to using it."
She said her meth took her feelings away, and her personality. She changed — she became angry, and selfish. She lost her job, and nearly lost all hope.
"My organs were starting to shut down," Spink said. "I was coughing up blood. I would be so weak I couldn’t even get off the ground."
Smoking more meth made her feel better. She said she knew it was going to kill her, but used it anyway.
Spending all her money on drugs, she resorted to stealing necessities like clothes and food.
Two of her friends died from crystal meth use.
"You want help, but it seems hopeless," Spink said, adding she’s thankful she never lost all hope. "I always had a little strand of hope, which thank God!"
After a frightening fight with her boyfriend in which she thought he was going to kill her, Spink found help.
After three years of using meth, a friend introduced her to the Teen Challenge program. That friend’s recovery inspired Spink to try to break her addiction.
She flew to here to attend Teen Challenge herself. Now alcohol and drug free, she’s program manager for the Adult and Teen Challenge recovery centre near Brandon, which provides a home for women who are fighting to overcome addictions.
Spink doesn’t know why crystal meth use is rising here, but knows: "It’s definitely on the climb, and it’s increasing everywhere."
But she said she knows the struggle to overcome that addiction, and knows: "It can be done, so there is hope."
SIDEBAR: Crystal meth in Brandon
Recent court cases and police reports provide examples of the presence of crystal meth in Brandon:
• Jan. 23 — As a result of an ongoing investigation, city police stop a vehicle with two men in it. They’re found with 19.5 ounces of methamphetamine worth $150,000.
• Jan. 12 — A woman receives three months house arrest followed by 18 months probation for offences that include thefts from six different Brandon stores within a month. A crystal meth addiction is cited as the reason for her crimes.
• Oct. 13, 2016 — Police seize one kilogram of methamphetamine worth $55,000 during a raid at a Brandon-area farm as part of an investigation into the large-scale movement of illegal drugs from Ontario.
• Oct. 3, 2016 — Two people found in a taxi during a high-risk arrest related to a series of shootings in Brandon were found with meth.
• Aug. 24, 2016 — A man inside a car that was pulled over is found with a knife and a substance believed to be crystal meth.
• April 9, 2016 — An admitted crystal meth addict is one of two men involved in committing a violent robbery at a Brandon corner store.
• March 2016 — A Brandon man breaks into his parents’ home and steals their passports and other possessions belonging to his mother, including jewelry and a laptop. He then uses the passports to barter for $3,000, apparently as a way to pay off a drug debt.
• Jan. 20, 2016 — A Winnipeg woman who admitted to being a long-term crystal meth addict was high on drugs when she dragged a Carberry RCMP officer who was trying to stop her from driving off. She struggled with that officer and another, and was Tasered four times before finally being subdued. She had also cashed stolen cheques, with one of the victims being from Brandon.
• Oct. 31, 2015 — A man who passed out in a taxi is found with 151 grams of crystal meth worth $45,000.
• April 2015 — Two Winnipeg men are caught in the Brandon Walmart parking lot with a backpack that contained 50 grams of methamphetamine, plus marijuana and cocaine.
» The Brandon Sun