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Hope in a meth crisis: Winnipeg man shares story of overcoming addiction

Click to play video: 'Hope in a meth crisis: former addict shares story of recovery' Hope in a meth crisis: former addict shares story of recovery
WATCH: After hitting rock bottom six years ago, Tony Schaefer found help for his meth addiction and is now working to help others do the same. Global's Amber McGuckin reports – Oct 25, 2018

Above Tony Schaefer’s desk is a graphic reminder of what his life used to be like — at rock bottom, struggling with his own demons of addiction.

The art work shows a man injecting himself with drugs while a figure of Jesus tries to rescue him.

READ MORE: On the front lines of Winnipeg’s meth crisis

The 35-year-old said he struggled with addiction for 13 years, and credits his faith for helping him get out of the haze.

“Six years ago I was literally sleeping outside in Toronto [and] smoking crack and meth every day,” he said. “It’s a very lonely empty place to be and there’s nothing fun about it.”

In 2012 he entered the one-year program at Adult and Teen Challenge to overcome his addiction.

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For the past five years Schaefer has been clean.

READ MORE: Ongoing meth crisis has personal cost for all Winnipeggers

One of the difficulties with drug addiction is that people believe it would never happen to them or their family. Many are unaware of warning signs, or don’t know how easily normal habits can lead to something else. Schaefer described fairly typical teen behaviours that can put someone on a slippery slope.

“It wasn’t like one day I decided to smoke crystal meth. It was kind of a progression system.”

“I started drinking at a young age. I started smoking weed in high school and over the years that progressed to a cocaine addiction and from cocaine I went to crystal meth,” he said.

Schaefer said meth is appealing because it’s a cheap high that will last a long time and will numb someone from their reality.

“I used to say all I want to do is be happy in life, all I want is to be happy. I think looking back my very definition of happiness was flawed and corrupted. I thought getting drunk every day was going to make me happy, doing drugs was going to make me happy,” he said.

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READ MORE: Meth crisis in Manitoba continues to soar

The Addictions Foundation of Manitoba said meth use increased by more than 100 per cent in adults, and nearly 50 per cent in youth, since 2014.

The province’s chief medical examiner said meth was involved in 35 overdose deaths in 2017, up from 19 the year before.

Tony Schaefer and his wife Socheata. Supplied

It’s that reality that pushes Schaefer today. He now works full time at Adult and Teen Challenge in Winnipeg as the associate program director.

Six years after participating in the program himself, Schaefer is married — he just recently bought a home with his wife.

“There is hope, don’t give up,” he said. “I get people calling me on a daily basis crying and saying ‘what can we do? there’s nothing we can do’, but give us a call.”

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READ MORE: First of five rapid access addictions clinics opens in Winnipeg

In the past five years the program has helped 433 people in their residential recovery centres — that’s 348 men and 85 women. But Schaefer said more needs to be done by the provincial government.

“They put it on the community to just kind of figure it out. It’s like ‘why don’t you start pumping some resources into some long term residential programs’,” he said.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen said in an email they are working with community partners to address the problem and find solutions.

“Our government’s efforts to combat the rising threat that methamphetamine poses to our province and our communities is ongoing” Friesen said.

“While our work to implement recommendations from the Virgo report continues, RAAM clinics in Winnipeg, Brandon and Thompson have already treated approximately 200 people for their addictions on an expedited basis, including for meth. A fifth clinic, in Selkirk, is on the way. We have also added six addictions beds at HSC Winnipeg and another 12 women’s beds in Winnipeg through the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba.”

The minister said now that the election is over, they can actively move toward solutions.

“The justice minister and I have scheduled a meeting with Winnipeg’s mayor to discuss ways the province and city can work together to address this issue.”

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