Crystal meth use in Bruce and Grey is growing faster than the provincial average, according to a report by Glenda Clarke and Associates. Health Canada's most recent figures - from 2004 - put meth use at 9.8 per cent of adults surveyed, while a 2007 Ontario Student Drug and Health survey shows 1.4 per cent of students used meth that year.
Crystal meth may not be in widespread use for the general population, according to a report from the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health, but meth use is on the rise among street youth.
Parents of users and users who spoke at Friday's forum made it clear that on the street is where crystal meth puts its victims.
"This drug addiction is nothing short of a nightmare," said a parent identified as Mary.
"Crystal meth is not even a drug in my eyes, it is a poison, my daughter is poisoning herself, and we are watching a beautiful teenager turn into a devil before us."
A user identified as Bill said when he was 20 a friend gave him crystal meth. "Eventually it caused all kinds of problems like anger. I freaked out easily and had financial troubles. Everything was affected. I couldn't hold a job. I had maybe 12-15 jobs over that time," he said.
The poignant stories and consultant's report are part of developing a comprehensive response to crystal meth and getting the support of the province and Bruce and Grey counties, said Bruce county social services director Terry Sanderson. Social services, probation, Children's Aid and the Health Unit were among those at Friday's meeting.
The range of services indicates the wide-spread impact of the drug. While far less common than alcohol addictions that are the mainstream problem in Grey and Bruce, Sanderson said meth is an addictive, aggressive drug that can lead to property crimes and violence.
Crystal meth is similar to the speed that killed and damaged users in the 1970s. Experts can't explain why its use is rising among teen girls and men in their 20s, but suggest the strong, long-lasting high and relatively cheap cost are factors.
The report chronicles the devastating impact on the user's health, from extreme weight loss to tooth decay. It cites concern about a growing number of meth parents who neglect their children, and about the danger posed by explosive and toxic meth labs in homes.
Long-term cognitive damage leaves users unable to cope successfully with life. That hurts families and neighbourhoods, puts the user in repeated conflict with finances and the law, and creates what the report calls a 'slow bleed' of scarce resources as social services, Children's Aid, hospitals, police and mental health agencies deal with meth users.
The coalition is asking for provincial money for a task force that will bump up law enforcement, harm reduction, education and treatment options.
In the meantime the coalition can pool existing resources, said Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hazel Lynn.
"Now if I need someone from probation or whatever I've seen someone here," she said.
"I think we do have enough momentum with the different organizations that even though none of us have a huge amount of money if you put it all together there's probably enough to get a task force going." One mother identified as Mary said parents have been waiting years for crystal meth to get attention. Parents rank tougher sentences for repeat offenders at the top of their wish list of solutions.
"They're infecting our kids," Mary said about repeat users and dealers who are quickly back on the streets after getting fines and conditional sentences.
Lack of treatment options is another big problem. MPP Carol Mitchell pointed out there are no residential spaces for children's mental health care in Huron-Bruce riding.
"I continue to say that we have to have an expanded capacity for children's mental health," Mitchell said.
That point was echoed by the plea from one parent for safe havens for users, especially teens. Identified only as Susan, she said there's a window of opportunity to help users before they become lost in the drug, but without a safe haven or easily accessible treatment teens are vulnerable to falling back in with friends and the drug crowd.
"Some people take our kids and they aren't in a safe place. They are into drugs themselves, selling, making, etc," Susan said.
Municipalities need to be aware of the toll crystal meth is taking on the community, said Grey County Warden Kevin Eccles. Grey and Bruce are used to seeing young people go away for school and jobs, but he said crystal meth addiction is robbing them of that potential.
"We're starting to see some of them come back," Eccles said of graduates and early retirees. "Now I'm not certain we'll even see that the youth we're developing now will even have that opportunity ( for education and careers ) if this becomes the health unit's pandemic. "
Susan gave all too graphic an example of that lost opportunity, and of the continuing social and personal cost of crystal meth.
"Drugs are nasty and take control of our children's lives," she said. "My daughter told us she did meth, ecstasy, bought and sold those, used needles and other drugs.
"She is now 18-and-a-half and has been clean for about five months. She is 20 weeks pregnant."