Methamphetamine Report for Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers Responsible for Justice

Section III - National Concerns Around Methamphetamine Use

Across Canada there has been a growing concern about the use, production and trafficking of methamphetamine. This section provides a comprehensive review of the demand and supply issues related to methamphetamine, and the proposed approaches to addressing these concerns.

4. Effects of Use

The acute effects of methamphetamine include increased heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure and alertness. Methamphetamine consumption induces a strong feeling of euphoria and is highly psychologically addictive. This potent central-nervous-system stimulant affects the brain by acting on the mechanisms responsible for regulating the biogenic amines or monoamine neurotransmitters. This broad class of neurotransmitters is responsible for regulating heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, appetite, attention and responses associated with alertness or alarm conditions.

Individuals who use methamphetamine will experience increased focus and mental alertness, the elimination of the subjective effects of fatigue, and decreased appetite. Many of these effects are broadly interpreted as euphoria or a sense of well-being, intelligence and power. It is a common belief that methamphetamine gives people "super-human strength." Methamphetamine users often become heavily immersed in what they are doing and are prone to violent outbreaks. Other side effects include twitching, jitteriness, repetitive behaviour (known as "tweaking"), and jaw clenching or teeth grinding. Some users exhibit sexually compulsive behaviour and may engage in unprotected sexual encounters with one or more individuals. Chronic methamphetamine use attacks the immune system, and users are often prone to various types of infections. There are also short- and long-term health effects, including paranoia, liver damage, brain damage and depression.[11]

The rapidity of the effects of methamphetamine depends on the route of administration. Oral ingestion of pills or tea leads to a reaction within 20-30 minutes. Intranasal ingestion (snorting) is quicker, and leads to effects in 3-5 minutes. The quickest absorption and physiological effects are gained by injection or inhalation (smoking). The user may experience an intense rush within 7-15 seconds[12] that lasts for only a few minutes but is extremely pleasurable. This rush is followed by a prolonged euphoria (or “high”). The half-life of methamphetamine (the time it takes for 50% of the drug to be removed from the body, either by metabolism or excretion) is 12 hours, with effects lasting potentially as long (4-12 hours).[13] The table below shows the rapidity and duration of effects.

Table 1: Effects and Duration on Intake of Methamphetamine [14]
Method Effects Felt Duration
Injection <2 minutes 3-7 hours
Smoke <2 minutes 3-7 hours
Snort 5-10 minutes 4-10 heures
Swallow 20-60 minutes 5-12 hours

A 10-20mg dose of methamphetamine is sufficient to produce an effect. According to the Drug Analysis Report on Designer Drugs Seized in Quebec, October 2002-April 2004, doses from seized ecstasy samples ranged from 4.4mg methamphetamine/tablet to 6.1mg/tablet. In this case, the methamphetamine was usually found in addition to one of the ecstasy drugs (MDMA or MDA). In humans, the toxic dose varies considerably due to individual variations and the development of tolerance. Fatalities have been reported following ingestion of doses as low as 1.3 mg/per kg of body weight, while tolerance has been developed up to 1000mg at a time and up to 5g a day. [15]

The reported cost of methamphetamine ranges from $10 to $20 for 100mg. The cost varies depending on the point of purchase – a gram could be obtained for $60 in Vancouver while a “hit” of 100 mg could cost more at a club scene. It has also been reported that it could cost less than $5 a day to maintain the habit.[16]

Methamphetamine is highly addictive and, as of yet, there is no pharmacological treatment for users. There is, however, research ongoing into ‘replacement’ approaches similar to methadone replacement for heroin. [17] Approaches commonly used, such as behaviour modification treatment, can take from six months to three years. While withdrawal symptoms are less pronounced than for alcohol or opiates such as heroin, they are no less physiological in nature, and may include seizures, narcolepsy and stroke. [18]

For an addict, the acquisition and use of the drug is the primary focus of life in spite of negative consequences that are directly attributable to drug use (loss of employment, family, personal relationships, and physical and psychological health). The insatiable compulsive craving for the drug will cause addicts to do almost anything to obtain it. This can include behaviours never considered prior to the addiction.[19]

5. Evidence of Trends

The most recent Canadian Addictions Survey (CAS), conducted in 2004, indicates that 6.4% of Canadians age 15 and older had used speed (counting all amphetamines, including methamphetamine) at least once during their lifetime. The highest lifetime usage rates were found in Quebec (8.9 %), British Columbia (7.3%), and Alberta (6.1%), while the Atlantic provinces show the lowest (1.2-4.5%). The percentage of Canadians who reported using methamphetamine in the past ten years was 0.8%.

The Western Summit on Methamphetamine Consensus Panel Report suggests that methamphetamine use remains relatively low in the general population but seems to be on the rise. It is thus necessary to infer trends through the examination of other sources of data.

In 2005, Health Canada reported that the number of seized methamphetamine samples analyzed had increased sevenfold since 1999, tripled since 2000, and doubled since 2002. The RCMP dismantled 39 clandestine labs in 2003 versus two in 1998. Greater numbers of clandestine lab seizures in Canada indicate that the industry is expanding, although admittedly not all clandestine labs produce methamphetamine.[20]

A recent survey conducted by Ontario’s Perth County Centre for Addiction and Mental Health found that 51.5% of the service providers who responded had seen an increase in the number of clients with methamphetamine addiction concerns over the previous year. Youths aged 19-24, were primarily responsible for this increase, comprising 38% of all of the methamphetamine cases reported.

Use among street youths also seems widespread in metropolitan Toronto. The Youth Link Inner City conducted a survey of homeless youths and found that 37% of those surveyed had used methamphetamine. The number could be higher, given the inclusion of methamphetamine in other drugs.[21]

The presence of methamphetamine in ecstasy tablets, as previously mentioned, is of great concern as it represents the unintentional use of methamphetamine by drug users. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Heath found that ecstasy tablets often contained methamphetamine even though they were sold as ecstasy only. Rintoul and MacKillican (2001) reported that, in Vancouver, only 20% of 110 samples provided by the RCMP Drug Awareness Service contained only MDMA, while the remaining 80% contained a combination of drugs, including methamphetamine, heroin, ephedrine and caffeine.[22] The RCMP reported that, in January 2006, about 60 samples of drugs seized over the past two years by different Nova Scotia police agencies were analyzed as methamphetamine. Police also reported that buyers likely mistook the methamphetamine for the more popular ecstasy. This analysis suggests that individuals may be consuming methamphetamine even though they may not actually be choosing to do so.

6. Impact of Methamphetamine on the Criminal Justice System

6.1 Police

Police report increased levels of crime in communities where methamphetamine is prevalent. High-speed pursuits, property crimes and identity theft are associated with methamphetamine use. Many of these crimes are committed in pursuit of funds to sustain consumption. Property crimes, thefts, robberies, fraud and identity theft fall into this category. However, some crimes appear to be a result of the state that the methamphetamine user is in after consuming the drug, such as dangerous driving, vandalism, assault and threatening behaviour.

Police frequently report that illicit drug use, trafficking and production are associated with violence and offences involving firearms. In Quebec, for example, there have been over 2,415 firearms offences related to drug crimes over the past 10 years.[23] Communities have also reported changes that may be attributed to an increase in methamphetamine use, production and trafficking. For example, the involvement of organized crime has been linked to an increase in violence in communities where methamphetamine labs exist. Some research has noted that guns are frequently found in these labs. Methamphetamine use is linked to an increased tendency to commit violent crimes, both because of the need to support the habit and as a result of the cognitive changes that result from consuming the drug. [24]

Disorderly and disruptive behaviour by methamphetamine users has been a concern to communities, which report that quality of life has decreased as the number of users increased. As noted earlier, methamphetamine users are likely to be erratic, paranoid, aggressive, brazen, energetic and violent. Law enforcement has reported increases in levels of violent crimes and those crimes that require attention such as identity theft, and computer crimes such as “phishing.” [25]

The Edmonton Police Service received information in the fall of 2004 that a group of Edmonton criminals was involved in fraudulent activities involving the Internet, e-mail and cell phones. Examination of data provided by an Internet Service Provider (ISP) revealed there were over 500 personal profiles that included names, dates of birth, addresses, bank account information, credit card numbers, mother’s maiden names, SIN and passwords. It was determined that this information was gathered through “phishing” scams targeting Pay Pal. Most of the victims of the scam were American citizens. Several individuals have been arrested in relation to this operation. All of the individuals involved in this case are reported to be either methamphetamine users or traffickers.

In 2005 a Joint Forces Operation (JFO) involving the Edmonton Police Service Methamphetamine Team, the Edmonton Police Service and RCMP Auto Theft sections was successful in targeting a business heavily involved in the methamphetamine trade. This sting resulted in eight people being arrested, 42 charges laid, $87,710.00 in property recovered, and the seizure of numerous items of personal property (mail, credit cards and identification).

In Ontario, as part of a recent operation in the counties of Huron, Bruce and Grey, the Drug Enforcement section of the OPP, in conjunction with local municipal police forces, seized approximately $640,000 of illegal drugs destined for area counties. Methamphetamine comprised a large proportion of the drugs seized.

In Vancouver, drug addicts increasingly are responsible for high-speed police pursuits. The police now indicate that in almost every stolen vehicle/high-speed pursuit the perpetrator is impaired by methamphetamine or crack cocaine.[26] In June of 2005, all of the seven police pursuits involved active addicts with a long list of prior offences. What is even more disconcerting is that the number of police pursuits is reaching record levels in the metro-Vancouver area.

6.2 Courts

Drug users make up a large proportion of those appearing in criminal court and are a significant drain on resources and time. They also commit a large proportion of criminal offences to maintain and feed their addiction. If convicted, drug users often are not able to obey or comprehend court orders, leading to a revolving door within the criminal justice system.

One indicator of this drug use and its impact on the courts is data on drug use within federal correctional facilities. Table 2 outlines the number of inmates involved in the Offender Substance Abuse Pre-Release Program (OSAPP) as of March 2000.[27]

Table 2: Number of Inmates Involved in the Offender Substance Abuse Pre-Release Program (OSAPP) as of March 2000
Use of OSAPP National
March 2000 incarcerated population 12,929
Offenders with substance abuse problem (67%) 8,663
Offenders with serious substance abuse problem (50% of above) 4,333
Average number of years served prior to first release 2.1
Approximate number of OSAPP seats required per year (Offenders with serious problems divided by Years to first release) 2,051
OSAPP Enrolments April 1, to September 31, 2000 (Prorated for one year) 1,920
Overage/(Shortfall) (131)

The table indicates that 67% of the offenders housed within federal correctional institutions have substance-abuse problems and that 50% of these are considered to be serious. Since these assessments tend to be subjective, they are most likely to be conservative.

According to a 2002 Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse report, the life of many inmates is characterized by scattered periods of freedom interspersed with periods of parole, arrest, detention in correction facilities and treatment. Changes in these conditions can often occur several times in a three-year period.[28]

6.3 Correctional Facilities

Correctional facilities face some unique challenges with offenders addicted to methamphetamine. These challenges relate mostly to the actions of accused offenders coming into correctional facilities. Manitoba Corrections, for example, notes bizarre behaviours of offenders from remand including aggression, uncontrollable rages and hallucinations. Staff information packages have been developed to raise awareness of these behaviours and the personal and offender safety issues around them.

In Alberta, approximately 51% of adult admissions to custody and nearly 80% of young offenders admitted to custody between September 2004 and April 2005 reported using illicit drugs in the month prior to admission. Approximately one out of every eight adults or young offenders (13.2%) reported using methamphetamine in the month prior to admission. Use of methamphetamine by adult female admissions, however, was higher (approximately 16%) and significantly higher for young female offenders (approximately 24%). Many who are admitted initially deny they use methamphetamine because they are ashamed of the drug use. Methamphetamine is classified as a “dirty” drug, with more stigmas attached to its use than crack or cocaine. Female offenders in particular seem to initially deny methamphetamine use, as prostitution is generally associated with this drug.

Adult offenders in remand and correctional facilities in Alberta are subject to random and targeted urinalysis testing for drugs. Consistent with drug-testing programs in other jurisdictions, the majority of positive results in 2004-2005 were for THC (cannabinoids). Results, from April 1, 2005 to September 17, 2005, as a percentage of all random and targeted positive tests are described in the table below.

Type of Drug Use among Adult Offender in Alberta Remand and Correctional Facilities (April 1 – September 17, 2005):

The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) reports that neither production nor use of methamphetamine within federal institutions is a concern. During the fiscal year 2004-2005, CSC conducted primarily random urinalysis of 5,439 offenders. Of those offenders tested, 670 were found positive for drugs. Only eight were found positive for amphetamines.

This information seems to confirm that concerns related to methamphetamine in correctional facilities in Canada lies predominantly within the remand population.

7. Production and Trafficking

Domestic production and trafficking of methamphetamine has increased, resulting in serious problems for some regions of Canada. These drug-production operations are extremely lucrative and sometimes linked to criminal organizations.

Methamphetamine recipes are easy to obtain from “cooks” [30] and other resources, including the Internet. There are many non-essential chemicals that can be used interchangeably to produce methamphetamine. These include acids, bases and solvents. These are all dangerous chemicals unless handled in a proper fashion. Finished products may have different colours and textures due to the differences in the methods by which methamphetamine can be produced.

There are two main methods currently used in making d-methamphetamine in Canada. Both include either ephedrine or pseudoephedrine as a precursor. The Phosphorus-Acid method is the most popular, followed closely by the Birch Reduction method. There is evidence that the older P-2-P methods are about to make a comeback because of recent precursor seizures and clandestine laboratories.

The Phosphorus-Hydriodic acid method involves the use of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine and red phosphorus and either hydriodic acid or iodine. In addition to these essential components, many of the non-essential chemicals mentioned previously are needed. This method yields high-quality d-methamphetamine, and is suitable for, and used for, producing small or large batches – from 60gm to 50kg.

A variation on the Phosphorus-Hydriodic acid is the hypophosphorous acid or “Aussie” method. Hypophosphorous acid and iodine are mixed to produce hydriodic acid, which acts on ephedrine or pseudoephedrine to make methamphetamine. This method is at least as hazardous as the Phosphorous-Hydriodic acid method.[31] When undertaking either the Phosphorus-Hydriodic acid method or the Aussie method, if the reaction mixture is overheated, it can form deadly phosphine gas. This has resulted in several deaths in the United States.

The Birch Reduction method, sometimes referred to as the “Nazi” method, involves the use of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, lithium and anhydrous ammonia. Lithium is obtained from lithium batteries. Anhydrous ammonia is commonly used as a fertilizer in agricultural areas and has properties similar to propane. Storage of anhydrous ammonia in unsuitable containers has resulted in several container failures which have caused injuries and deaths.

The older methods of making methamphetamine can be called the P-2-P method. This is the method that was popular during the 1970s and 1980s and makes the mixture d,l-methamphetamine. In addition to phenyl-2-propanone and methylamine, a reducing agent is needed. The most common reducing agents found at in the P-2-P clandestine laboratories are aluminium amalgam (which is made from aluminium and a small amount of mercuric chloride) and sodium borohydride. Other reducing agents have been used, such as hydrogen and a metal catalyst, but are much less common. The main toxin and environmentally significant compound from this reaction, even though it is used in small quantities, is mercuric chloride. It is not clear whether waste from a clandestine laboratory using aluminium amalgam would release its mercury into the environment.

There are two general types of clandestine drug labs. One is the “economic-based lab” or “super lab,” which is a large, highly organized lab that can produce from a few hundred grams to 50kg in one production cycle. The other type is smaller labs, often referred to as "mom and pop," "Beavis and Butthead," or "addiction-based" labs. These labs generally manufacture only one to four ounces of methamphetamine per production cycle. These operators typically produce enough drugs for use by themselves and their close associates, with extra to finance the purchase of additional precursor chemicals.

7.1 Methamphetamine Labs in Canada

One of the problems associated with methamphetamine labs is the difficulty in detecting where they are located. Unlike marijuana grow operations, where monitoring power supplies can assist in detection, methamphetamine labs have no such power requirements. Therefore, the number of labs already detected in Canada may not accurately reflect the extent of the problem. The following table represents the number of methamphetamine labs identified and dismantled in Canada in 2005:

Table 4: Location of Identified Methamphetamine Labs in Canada – 2005
Province Number of Labs Dismantled
Ontario 6
Saskatchewan 1
Alberta 2
British Columbia 20

British Columbia is of interest due to the large number of labs dismantled relative to other jurisdictions. In September 2005, a report was produced from the University College of the Fraser Valley entitled Clandestine Laboratories in British Columbia. Researchers reviewed all of the files in cases of clandestine methamphetamine drug labs that came to police in British Columbia for a two-year period. Of the 33 labs discovered (from April 1, 2003, to March 31, 2005),[32] approximately half (16) were operational. Ten of the labs were non-operational in that they were either established to begin production or production had already taken place. The final seven labs were "box labs" – in a dismantled state for storage, shipping or hiding.

This report noted that most of the labs discovered had the capacity to produce a significant amount of methamphetamine. The report also noted that most labs reviewed were makeshift and used dangerous chemicals posing significant hazards to public safety. It was also determined, not surprisingly, that individuals with lengthy criminal histories operated these facilities.

The increase in this methamphetamine production and the proliferation of labs also seems to be evident in the traces of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine at crime scenes across the country. These precursors, which are essential to the methamphetamine production process, are commonly found in cold medications easily purchased at pharmacies. In a recent investigation in Ontario for example, approximately 8,772 tablets in various packaging were found on a property where a methamphetamine lab was expected. This amount, with modest calculations established by Health Canada, would yield approximately 157 grams of methamphetamine. [33]

8. Social and Community Impacts

The quality of life among users and dealers of methamphetamine is typically greatly diminished. Addicts and dealers may experience dissolution of relationships, social isolation, altered personality, difficulty with academics, loss of employment, involvement in crime, exacerbation of pre-existing mental illness, drug-related psychosis and brain damage, health-risk behaviours including risky sexual encounters and declining physical fitness. Furthermore, individuals may be unmotivated to seek help, as methamphetamine use can create seemingly high levels of energy and productivity.

Methamphetamine use and production also have social impacts on our communities. Communities can become vulnerable to petty crime, social disorder, associated risks to health, increases in violence and increases in large scale labs and drug trafficking.

Methamphetamine production operations also pose serious public safety and health hazards to those in and around production operations. These operations can result in serious physical injury from explosions, fires, chemical burns and toxic fumes. They produce environmental hazards, pose clean-up problems and endanger the lives and health of community residents. In addition, first responders are also placed in extraordinarily dangerous situations when responding to calls where clandestine labs exist.

The collateral damage of methamphetamine identified at the Alberta Workshop on Methamphetamine (2004) included effects on families, school staff and students, law enforcers, fire department, paramedics, health care practitioners, businesses and property owners. These individuals experience second-hand symptoms of methamphetamine use. As previously noted, first responders may experience exposure to production by-products (fire or explosion hazards) and may be subject to the violence and aggression from addicts, or frustration and stress from inadequate resources or judicial restraints preventing them from taking action. Parents may also experience emotional and financial stress as a child goes through treatment, strain from missing work, fear, embarrassment, shame and guilt. The family may also encounter gang-related crime, contamination, violence and disciplinary problems as the child continues to abuse the drug. Furthermore, siblings and children may experience neglect, abuse, contamination and negative influence from familial role models. Staff and students in the schools may face users with behavioural problems, classroom disruptions, absenteeism, negative peer influence, the stress of having insufficient resources (knowledge or time) to handle these issues, and, once again, possible contamination. The community in general may be exposed to violence, property damage, identify theft, decreased public safety, contamination of public areas from disposal of cooking by-products and an unreliable or decreased work force that impedes the safety of co-workers.

There are also significant health risks and costs associated with dismantling labs, and removing processing agents from these locations. Currently, certain expenses are borne by the responding police services, property owners and insurers.