[Updated entry]. There was a documentary on The Fifth Estate on CBC TV about crystal meth, n’s addiction. It was on the regular network on March 23, 2005 and was played on the Newsworld cable channel several times later in the week. After the show premiered, CBC set up a Dark Crystal microsite which has streaming video links (Windows Media and Quicktime) to the 42 minute documentary. I thought it was a competent and comprehensive show, which communicated basic information about the effects and availability of the drug, and some information about treatment of the addiction. It might have said a few more things on some issues.
The show was made up of interviews and commentary shot in Kamloops BC and Barrier BC. Both towns are in the interior. Kamloops is a small regional city, and Barrier is a small town. The point is that meth is available in small towns. It is a cheap drug, highly addictive, universally available. There is an idea that people in small towns spend more time with their kids and know their neighbours and that addictive drugs aren’t available in small towns. That doesn’t seem to be true.
There were interviews with police officers and drug treatment counsellors that established some of the basic facts. Crystal is an amphetimine with effects similiar to cocaine, but lasting longer, and much cheaper – within the means of most teens. For a consumer, apparently a good value, but it is highly addictive. It can be manufactured from a “recipe” that is available over the Internet and most of the ingredients are available widely and easily.
In interviews with teen addicts and former addicts and with the parents of addicts, several people said that the changes in the teens’ behaviour were incremental over several weeks and easily confused with aspects of normal modern teen behaviour. Agitation and sleeplessness at night and sleeping during the day, belligerence, loss of appetite and loss of interest in regular meals, weight loss. Some parents noticed changes but not instantly. Some kids talked about having used the drug for 2 or 3 years, and it wasn’t clear what their parents knew or suspected, or when. It appeared that for most of the parents the idea of drug addiction in normal healthy teen agers was far-fetched. The kids were withdrawn and ashamed of their addiction, and seemed unable to explain why they had started to use the drug. Most of teen addicts still seemed to be living with parents, although one girl was taking steps to live on her own at age 16. One girl was an accomplished athlete, one boy was a musician, several of the kids seemed to be socially active and popular.
I thought the show did a good job of showing the kids and their parents as normal, and the victims of a criminal enterprize – the sale of a hazardous and addictive product. It answered many of the stereotypes about addicted teens as the problem kids of abusive or indifferent parents.
The show talked to several teens who were dealing with their addiction There was one young man who was dealing with it on his own, unsuccessfully, it appeared. There was a girl who was in a group program, and a 19 year old young man who had been through the group and clean for several months, who was now a peer counsellor. There was girl in Barrier who read a poem about her addiction at a town meeting. It wasn’t clear what treatment she had received and how the community had helped her to recover. There was young woman in Barrier who said she had an addiction as a teenager but kicked it and was clean for several years. Someone suggested that an addict who could stay clean for a year could stay clean for life. The message on recovery and treatment wasn’t that clear. It seemed that there is strong hope for most teens to recover, but takes a long time. The journalist hosting the program had a few lines about teens needing a lot of support for their recovery, but she didn’t follow with any interviews or commentary on the kind of support kids might need.
There were interviews with a lead counsellor, a peer counsellor and one client in a group program in Kamloops. It was a six week program, and time-intensive but not a residential program. The kids lived at home. They weren’t expected to give up crystal right away – but they were expected to stop after a few weeks and they were tested. The program seems to be experimental, and it has one feature that may be controverial in the drug treatment community and the community at large. They encouraged kids to blunt their need for meth by smoking marijuana. I think 5 of 8 kids got through the program without relapsing and using crystal. The show did not follow the graduates.
During the interviews about treatment, there were a couple of comments about friends and peers, which started to hint at the problems of getting a teen who is part of an addicted group into treatment, to staying with the treatment, and to stay clean. I thought the show took a very simplistic approach to that point, making it sound like the drug is just highly addictive. N. and his friends have a very tight group and a strong ideology about why they have the right to use the drug and a lot of expectations about what their parents should be tolerating and supporting them while they do drugs, and n. has seemed to be consistently deceptive and manipulative.
The show did not examine treatment options and resources very closely, and mentioned the question of support for teens who are trying to give up in a very generic way. I thought they might have said more about that. Mental health and addictions services were caught short by crystal meth. The systems in place in most provinces were looking at smaller numbers of teens dealing with other drugs. The boom in cheap and highly addictive meth over the last few years means a lot of teens with big problems – and not that many counsellors and programs. The programs are big on insight and informed choices, although there is an increasing emphasis on cognitive therapies. At the same time, there is a tendency to view the program as the cure. It seems to me that a teen – or an adult – cannot deal effectively with an addiction without making a number of changes in his life and without starting to lead a structured and purposeful life.