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Public Meetings Erie St.Clair Meth Task Force

Crystal meth operations have yet to lay siege to this region. A newly created task force wants to keep it that way.

The Addiction Network of the Erie St.Clair Local Health Integration Network wants to keep methamphetamine operations from settling in Sarnia-Lambton and the surrounding areas.

The eight-member group, representing emergency services, municipal council and health-care workers from Lambton, Chatham-Kent and Essex counties, wants to address the use of meth and other prevalent drugs in a proactive manner.

"Through these three counties it is not a big problem," said Willy Van Klooster, executive director of Westover Treatment Centre in Thamesville. "What we would really love to do is set up a system that discourages those people from coming in and starting to make it and sell it."

Methamphetamine, known in its most popular form as crystal meth, is a highly addictive drug.

"It's very cheap and it's a very quick high," Van Klooster said.

The high from a $20 hit can last for 12 hours.

Several of the key ingredients are corrosive materials, such as fertilizer, drain cleaner and paint thinner. They are found over-the-counter, but can have dangerous health effects. Instructions for producing crystal meth can be easily found on the Internet.

Within the past two years, Van Klooster said the number of people treated for methamphetamine addiction in the area has increased from one or two per cent of drug users to five per cent.

Although it appears to be small meth operations in the area at the moment, Van Klooster said organized crime units are starting to join the business and establish multi-kilo labs.

Less than a two-hour drive away, police have busted 17 crystal meth labs in the Stratford and Perth County area in the past two years.

In June, the McGuinty government announced more than $2 million in funding to combat the problem.

Stratford Mayor Dan Matheson, who is the co-chairperson for the Perth County Task Force, was among the guest speakers.

"We don't see it as a big issue yet," Van Klooster said. "If labs get established, very quickly the numbers go up."

Rural areas are appealing for meth labs because of the low traffic and access to fertilizer, another ingredient used in the drug. Processing meth also creates a dour odour easily detected in high-density areas.

John Zarebski, program consultant for the Centre of Addictions and Mental Health at the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance, said local communities can learn a lot from Stratford formerly known as the meth capital of the world which managed to reduce the prevalence of meth use in Perth County.

The task force will be meeting in early 2008 to develop a drug strategy for the three counties.

Earlier this year in Sarnia-Lambton more than 40 community partners embarked on the most exhaustive drug study ever undertaken in Sarnia-Lambton.

The group created a 20-page policy draft, focusing on prevention, education and co-ordination of addiction services.

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