As part of an in-depth investigation into the city’s ongoing meth crisis, Global News / 680 CJOB journalists Richard Cloutier and Joe Scarpelli were given exclusive behind-the-scenes access to the people on the front lines in the fight against meth. This is the first of a four-part series.
How do you start a conversation with a man raising his left hand to his forehead, rocking side to side on a stretcher in the back of an ambulance? You don’t. You let him talk.
“Bro, I didn’t think it would get to this,” said Brent, a thirty-something, heavy-set man with complaints of a headache, seeing things and feeling more and more impatient. He’d been drinking and admitted to being up and down on a crystal meth high since Wednesday.
It was Friday when Brent told his story to Global News at a gas station on McPhillips – a short trip away from Seven Oaks Hospital – where paramedics answered a distress call.
“I can’t walk because I’ve been walking pretty much the whole time I’ve been high on meth,” he said. “I haven’t got any rest since Wednesday. That’s one of the drugs I didn’t want to slip on, was meth, man.
“I can’t even really think properly. It seems like it’s affecting me way worse than before, even my sleep. I think I got walking psychosis or whatever.”
Brent’s situation certainly isn’t unique. The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS) is dealing with a staggering increase in meth-related calls. Some are obvious, others are masked as calls about abdominal pain, chest problems, or even allergies. The worst ones can turn violent on a dime.
According to WFPS statistics, they’ve already documented almost a dozen more crystal meth cases in 2018 – 779 – than they did in all of 2017, the previous high.
Those numbers, however, likely don’t paint the entire picture. WFPS paramedic crews only document meth-related data when the drug is cited as a ‘chief complaint’ by the patients themselves. If they don’t let the paramedics know that meth use is part of their health concerns, it’s not necessarily included in the WFPS reporting. This means those numbers could be far higher.
The man in the back of the ambulance was anxious, but posed no danger to paramedics or reporters. As many in the healthcare industry know first-hand, however, that’s not always the case, and a meth user’s demeanor can change on a dime.
“We also have circumstances where their behaviour is completely psychotic and they’re very difficult to manage,” said Ryan Sneath, Assistant Chief, Paramedic Operations with WFPS. “(When) they’re in a state of an excited delirium, it requires significant manpower, significant staffing and significant resources to manage those individuals safely.”
Sneath’s concerns have been echoed by front-line healthcare workers in recent weeks, after a number of violent incidents in local hospitals and the revelation from the Manitoba Nurses Union that meth-related ER visits have increased by a whopping 1,200 per cent since 2013.
The Global News / 680 CJOB investigation secured exclusive access to what it’s like on the streets of Winnipeg. Crystal meth, it revealed, is not just a core area problem. The reporters rode along with paramedics to calls in neighbourhoods like the Maples, Tuxedo and St. Boniface.
Dr. Rob Grierson, Medical Director of the WFPS, is also an emergency room doctor at Health Sciences Centre.
“You can take somebody who’s taken a certain amount of alcohol and I can reliably predict what the next few hours of that individual’s course is going to look like. With this, all bets are off.”
Brent, the man in the back of the ambulance, will hopefully get the help he needs. Based on the city’s ever-growing statistics, however, the future for Brent and others remains uncertain.
Anyone needing help can call the Manitoba Addictions Helpline at 1-855-662-6605.
WATCH: 680 CJOB’s Richard Cloutier on what he learned while on the front lines of the city’s meth crisis.