Methamphetamine use has increasingly become an issue in the district over the last half decade.
To better educate those in professions that routinely come into contact with meth users, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) hosted two half-day workshops at La Place Rendez Vous last Monday.
“I think it’s a great way to start a conversation about what’s occurring in the community,” noted Christie Cousineau of the Fort Frances branch of the CMHA.
“We’re thankful that we have amazing community partners who wanted to participate,” she added.
Meth use has steadily been on the rise here since 2016.
Statistics from the Northwestern Health Unit’s (NWHU) needle exchange program listed meth being used in only one percent of encounters in 2016, four percent in 2017, and a jump to 16 percent in 2018, showing a definite increase in the drug’s frequency of use intravenously.
The workshop meanwhile, had participants from the NWHU, OPP, Community Living Fort Frances and District, Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board, Kenora-Rainy River Districts Child and Family Services, and those who work in the fields of mental health and addiction.
Community partners from Dryden, Kenora, and International Falls were also in attendance, making the workshops larger in scope than just this district.
Clinical director of Stonehenge Therapeutic Community, Kerry Manthenga, delivered the workshops here last week to build awareness and help locals develop a greater understanding of the issue.
“My intention when I deliver the workshop is to provide . . . some evidence-based and research-based information about methamphetamine that separates some of the anxiety that can come when a new drug is appearing on the scene,” she explained.
“It’s to give people some solid factual information about what it is, how it is similar to other drugs that people abuse, and how it is also different,” added Manthenga.
Manthenga provides a unique perspective having worked in Auckland, New Zealand for nine years where methamphetamine has a long history as a “substance of significant concern.”
“It’s the second most commonly used illicit substance in New Zealand and has been for some time,” she noted.
“That’s really different from where Ontario is because methamphetamine is quite a newer drug here-it hasn’t been around for as long,” added Manthenga.
Manthenga also spoke about methamphetamine addiction and the ways in which attendees can improve the health of people who are using the substance.
“We talked about the ways in which our health system has the potential to make a difference,” she said.
Meanwhile, the feedback from individuals who attended the workshop has been great, according to Manthenga and Cousineau.
“Generally speaking, the feedback was positive,” said Cousineau.
“I often have one or two law enforcement folk in the room, but this time we had quite a large cohort, so it was great to see that the feedback was also helpful from their perspective,” Manthenga added.
“For the workshops, what I’m discussing is less immediately about policing and more immediately about health, so it was really great to see that their feedback indicated the content was helpful in their context as well.”
Manthenga was also happy with the level of engagement shown by the workshop’s participants.
“There was clearly an investment from the attendees in understanding the issue,” she stressed. “My hope is whatever each individual person took away, it helps them in some way.
“This is hard work and that room in the morning and afternoon was full of people who were committed to doing it and doing the best they can in a really hard situation,” Manthenga added.
Both sessions were completely full, making for a great turnout to the event.
Manthenga said hosting these types of events in communities like Fort Frances helps to build awareness and start conversations about what has been proven to help in combating meth use.
“I think it’s that engagement and that opportunity to sort of inspire hopefulness in the people who attend, about what they are already doing and what else is possible,” she explained.
It’s important for the community partners to recognize that they’re doing a good job to battle the very complex issue that is meth addiction, Manthenga added.
One of the key messages she would like to relay to those who couldn’t attend the workshop was that “addiction at its core is a health issue.”
“It absolutely has behavioural and legal ramifications and those need to continue to be addressed but we also need to be treating the health issue component,” Manthenga said.
When meth users experience paranoia and psychosis due to use of the substance, it is a sign that the body has had more methamphetamine than it can handle.
Manthenga noted that when these symptoms are exhibited there are medical interventions available to help people manage both the mood impacts and psychosis related to their meth use.
“If we can help to manage those symptoms, it gives people a better chance at having moments of clarity that allow them to think about and consider their options going forward . . . to break that cycle of addiction,” she explained.
Cousineau meanwhile, is grateful to all who attended the workshop.
“Thank you to all the amazing community partners who participated,” she remarked.