Crystal methamphetamine (ice) was noted as having evolved into an issue requiring attention for Canadian First Nations over a decade ago. In July of 2005, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) in Canada passed a resolution specifically directed at dealing with this issue. As a result of this resolution, the AFN identified the need for the development of a First Nations National Task Force on Crystal Meth to develop a Strategic Action Plan to address crystal meth in First Nations communities.

First Nations researched the drug, usage, the population of users, impact on mind-body and holistic wellbeing, impact on the community and the interrelationship between government and health/drug strategies. Harm to the environment caused by the manufacturing of the drug and contaminated homes causing significant health impacts, especially children, was also noted.

In strategising law enforcement, education and intervention responses, Canada looked to the United States where the issue had already significantly impacted many states. A significant issue was the legal availability via the pharmaceutical industry of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient of meth, found in over-the-counter cold medication. The Canadian government restricted purchase of the medication to 3 boxes per person and worked to tackle the organised crime syndicates in Canada with international access to the substance whilst also attacking local manufacturers of meth.

First Nations’ crystal meth treatment strategies were examined and then built upon. Researchers cautioned that crystal methamphetamine was not a First Nations-specific problem and should not be perceived as one. Some communities had a problem with it, while others did not. Proactive community leadership focusing on education was encouraged. For those observing issues, concerns such as significant increases in gang membership, crime and health concerns such as seizures were noted.

Saskatchewan was identified as one of the provinces struggling with crystal meth. Therefore, in 2004, Saskatchewan Health developed a strategic plan for crystal methamphetamine and other amphetamines. Saskatchewan has a highly concentrated First Nations population. They adopted a holistic approach to reducing crystal methamphetamine abuse. Holistic approaches are rooted in Aboriginal world views and are now embedded in several initiatives.

An integrated holistic approach that also covers other areas such as employment, education, criminal behaviour and mental health was seen to be the required response to tackling this drug in communities. This observation was provided at a workshop by the Prevention Awareness and Community Education (P.A.C.E) team based out of the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technology (SIIT).

P.A.C.E was founded on the principles that education and awareness are key measures in protecting First Nations communities against the dangers of using crystal methamphetamine. Whilst research often linked cocaine and crystal meth usage, it was however noted that usage of cocaine produced dopamine release levels of 400% whereas usage of crystal meth boosts dopamine levels up to 1500%. Thus, the enormous attraction of crystal meth, particularly for traumatised groups was realised.

What was initially found to be lacking in crystal meth treatment regimens for First Nations and others were programs with specific detoxification protocols that supported the unique nature of the drug. In particular, the tremendous amount of dopamine it releases into the system and the immediacy of addiction.

A second approach for First Nations that showed promise for treating crystal methamphetamine addiction was asset mapping, a community based approach that tends to work well for First Nations because it operates from a strength based core rather than one based in weakness. This is of significance to First Nations as they are regularly overwhelmed with concerning statistics and health observations. Working in a positive and strengths based manner was deemed as essential.

The asset mapping approach asks the question, “What is community? The community defines such parameters of community such as: vision, values, culture and tradition. People in the community come together and discuss their situation rather than just leaving it to service providers. Becoming dependent on a service provider was deemed as problematic for critical issues such as dealing with meth addiction because the responsibility is seen to drift away from the community to the service provider. Instead engaging, inclusive and uplifting processes were utilised to encourage the whole community to be part of the responses.

A Strategic Plan for Crystal Meth and Other Amphetamines in Saskatchewan recommends the following for communities to fight meth:

Prevention
• Provide to parents and youth a list of Web sites that offer trusted information about crystal meth
• Support drug education in school curricula
• Utilize schools as a base for a wide array of addictions programs from health promotion and prevention to on-site counselling
• Develop a database of addictions services for workers to use across the province

Treatment
• Provide funding to regional health authorities for inpatient and outpatient services
• Provide funding for care of high-risk children and youth who need protection and specialized treatment
• Offer programs that integrate mental health and drug abuse services, recognizing the strong link between mental illness and drug abuse
• Develop and use detox and treatment protocols that are appropriate for crystal meth
• Offer outreach programs to assist families of children with substance abuse issues
• Increase skills of service providers
• Research and develop a framework to identify and evaluate best practices for prevention and treatment
• Support conferences that share best practices to engage communities in fighting crystal meth
• Support provincial networks that are a cross-section of professionals who deal with drug abuse
• Create a community resource guide

Education
• Prepare and distribute factual information
• Initiate media advertising campaign
• Hold public forums at which experts provide general information and advice for members of the public
• Develop program supports that build resilience in vulnerable, at risk students and out-of-school youth
• Engage Elders in the development of treatment and prevention programs to reconnect Aboriginal peoples with traditional teachings, values and cultures

Reduce Drug Availability
• Use existing legislation, to target meth lab sites
• Involve a broad cross-section of justice system professionals to better integrate day-to-day operations fighting drug production and trafficking
• Use expertise of federal drug units at local levels of law enforcement
• Increase scrutiny of the sale of products used to produce crystal meth and, if necessary, make their purchase more difficult
• Encourage the federal government to modify its legislation to control access to and movement of products used to create crystal meth
• Encourage the federal government to strengthen legal penalties around methamphetamines

Despite significant proactive in roads made early in the identification of meth as an issue, Canada and First Nations continue to grapple with meth usage and its impact. Most significantly current concerns are the impact on children in homes where people are cooking meth and the likely long-lasting or permanent damage to their bodies and brains. In some meth labs, children’s food and beds were found beside the chemicals and equipment used to make meth. As such, Canada’s recently released Premier’s Task Force on Crystal Meth Report calls on the federal government to toughen its approach to meth, in part by making child drug endangerment a Criminal Code offence.

For more information on the responses of First Nations to crystal meth, view the report.