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Crystal Meth Society The oil portraits at Collingwood School stare out over a mostly empty lecture hall. They number 13 -- depicting former board directors or heads of school -- some seated in the garden, one with a hand on the hip, one holding a basketball. As many people, maybe 15 if you count the two guidance counsellors, pepper the 200-seat auditorium. Mark McLaughlin stands at the podium. He is lean, serious, intent.

The Victoria man points to a display of rat poison, cat litter, drain cleaner, cough syrup -- some common ingredients for cooking crystal meth. The corrosive toxic stew is one of the most addictive street drugs and years ago was flagged as a Vancouver area epidemic. Police say the home-cooked psychostimulant is now nation-wide.

"The secret of crystal meth is that it just wants more meth," McLaughlin says, looking out over his audience. "Crystal meth can reach in and take away from a person everything they have." Four years ago his teen -- he asks not to reveal any more about his family -- became a meth addict and a runaway.

"When you're walking along the street looking for your kid and keep bumping into other parents, you start saying 'Someone ought to do something about this ( meth addiction ),'" he says. "And that's when you realize, it has to be you."

McLaughlin's voice is sharp. His rhetoric is passionate, even angry. He tells parents about six teens who thought they bought ecstasy, but the pills turned out to be pure meth. They almost died in Victoria General, he says. One 13-year-old, not as lucky, overdosed the first time she tried ice: "Dead, buried in the ground. Have a nice life.

"You can't ignore it," he says. "It ( education ) needs to be never ending." So, in McLaughlin's view, if 15 people show up tonight, that counts 10 or 15 more families he might help through prevention.

This afternoon he spoke to more than 200 Grade 11 and 12 Collingwood students. Some days he can reach 1,000 people. In two and a half years, McLaughlin says he and handful of volunteers at the nonprofit society he founded, The Crystal Meth Prevention Society of BC, have reached more than 50,000 people across the country, mostly young people.

The Victoria man has made it his part-time job to tell people about "How ( meth ) works, why it's dangerous, how to protect yourself . . . It spreads more like a disease pandemic. It eats it all."

He typically asks for a show of hands. "How many of you know someone who is or has been meth-involved?" He says one fifth of his audience can answer yes. When he asks about ecstasy, half the students say they know someone using.

This raises a serious alarm for McLaughlin, who cites long-standing police warnings that meth is making its way into other street drugs, particularly MDMA or ecstasy, providing cheap filler and bigger highs. "The message is dope dealers don't know what's in the pill, nor do they care. They care only about getting the money and tossing you out like a squeezed out orange."

In a separate interview Const. Jeff Palmer, coordinator of WVPD's youth liaison program, cautioned that dealers have "every motivation in the world" to make drugs more addictive. "That's one of the characteristics of meth, it's highly addictive. To someone thinking about trying street drugs," Palmer warns, "You have zero assurance that you're not being given something other than what you're being offered."

Ecstasy also offers its own hosts of perils, which McLaughlin says he plans to treat in next year's shows. The euphoria-inducing illicit drug is suspected in the deaths of two Metro Vancouver teens, friends who died hours apart in Vancouver and Richmond earlier this month. Police expect toxicology reports soon.


The video Death By Jib, created five years ago by a Lower Mainland outreach worker, doesn't pull any punches. It shows a maimed, toothless meth addict who begs kids to stay in school and say 'No' to drugs. It shows a naked dead man lying like an exclamation mark in his own vomit after overdosing in a squalid rooming house. The now-infamous video, shown in some Planning 10 classes, zooms on a needle slamming into an infected sore as a junkie shoots up in slow motion.

"It makes some people cross to watch that," McLaughlin tells the parents at Collingwood school. But it drives the point home for teens. "( The junkie's ) arm looks like a pile of hamburger. He is driven down. Meth is in charge."

Call it the "ugly drug" and young people listen, McLaughlin says. He brandishes before-and-after photos, charting how users become like dark-eyed ghouls, wasted in a matter of months. Collingwood's Patty Metheral, a Grade 11 guidance counsellor, says, "Whether the students enjoyed seeing it ( the video ) or not, for the most part it was taken rather well."

The senior students asked teachers to educate the younger students about crystal meth and other street drugs. "Their message was the grade 8s and 9s should have it, too," says Metheral. "I know they've seen ecstasy."

Metheral says McLaughlin's message that meth is often cut into ecstasy -- seen erroneously as a harmless, fun drug by some teens -- made an impression. A handful of students stayed behind after McLaughlin's afternoon talk to ask about volunteering in drug prevention programs, Metheral adds.

McLaughlin says his society needs more help. He thinks with a dozen presenters like himself, he can put his show in front of as many as 2,000 people each month. "A lot of parents might only come to us when their children get caught up in ( addictions ). I know I was there," he says.

He says his child, the recovering addict, lives at home now, sleeping through the night. "Put it this way," he says, "pursuing education and work opportunities . . . is a great outcome compared to the alternative."

For more about the Crystal Meth Prevention Society of BC, visit www.crystalmethbc.ca .

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