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Crystal meth use among teens is a challenge for Maple Ridge’s new mayor

Under the gazebo in Peace Park, kids smoking meth are one symptom of the city's drug and crime crisis.

Note: all names have been changed to protect the identities of the people involved.

On a Sunday in October, I went to Maple Ridge for the first time. A friend and I met up with others at Memorial Peace Park. One teenager, who I’ll call Marcus, was waiting for a homeless man to return with a two litre of Grower’s cider he was buying on Marcus’s behalf. The man, perhaps a resident of the nearby tent city, had a whip and a can of bear mace in the back pocket of his jeans. I shrugged it off.

After Marcus got the Grower’s, he invited us to a house just a few blocks away from Haney–the downtown area of Maple Ridge–where we met up with yet more teenagers. The group of about ten then relocated to Eric Langton Elementary School–a frequent hangout spot for the kids of Haney.

The group was all sitting underneath the playground equipment when Marcus asked one in the group, “Tim, have you ever done crystal meth?”

To my astonishment, Tim ecstatically answered, “I’m on it right now!”

Marcus replied casually, saying, “It’s fine. I’ve done it too.”

I was in shock. My friend had told me before that Haney was full of “meth heads,” but I didn’t believe that it was that bad, or that it affected kids around my age.

Out of ten teenagers, eight of them claimed to have tried crystal meth. That’s when I thought, there’s something seriously wrong with this place.

Maple Ridge is a town of about 82,000 people near the Fraser River in the greater Vancouver area. It’s an interesting place to say the least. Two of the teens I met had stolen two “60-pounders” of Captain Morgan from the local liquor store and drank from them in the park — a 30-second walk from the central police station. None of the teens seemed at all nervous about that.

It all made me wonder: what are city leaders doing about what they have described as a drug and crime crisis?

This past summer a new mayor was elected into office in Maple Ridge: Mike Morden. He promised residents that he would address the growing crime and drug problem and put some actions in place to help.

When I contacted the Mayor’s Office, I received information from Tony Cotroneo, Manager of Community Engagement, who cited a number of existing programs targeting youth, including a partnership with the Greg Moore Youth Centre, which provides a recreational and socializing space for youth, the Youth Wellness Centre, which focuses on youth mental health and substance abuse, and the Iron Horse Youth Clinic for sexual health.

He also cited the Maple Ridge Youth Strategy, which provides a list of recommendations “to promote positive physical, psychological, and social youth development.” The strategy lists the cities strengths like its facilities and amenities, its small town feel, strong traditional and alternative school programs, and it’s growing mental health awareness in schools. It also lists challenges like substance use and addiction, safety, mental health wait lists, poor transit, and poverty.

Meanwhile, underneath the gazebo in Memorial Peace Park, kids aged 14-17 are routinely smoking methamphetamine, according to teenagers who live in and around the area of Haney.

One Maple Ridge teen that I reached out to said that she goes to the Greg Moore Youth Center to hang out with her friends and play pool and ping-pong, but was unaware of the mental health and sexual health resources available at the other facilities that Cotroneo had listed.

The mayor’s office made no mention of any new initiatives planned or implemented since Morden came into office although city council is also working on a complete community safety plan.

According to a provincial survey conducted by the McCreary Centre Society, 2% of BC youth report having used amphetamines recreationally.

Addiction develops quickly. An article published by pbs.org titled “Meth & the Brain,” reports that alcohol releases 100-200 units of dopamine, cocaine releases 100-350 units of dopamine, But Meth can release as much as 1250 units of dopamine, making the user’s brain believe that meth is more important than food, money, and even your own friends and family.

Digging into the root causes of substance abuse quickly leads to broad societal problems. Most of the young people I saw that day are currently in the foster system. We know that teens in foster care are more likely to try drugs, and Indigenous foster kids even more so. Many children in the system are there because of neglect or abuse in their home. With traumatizing memories and feeling of abandonment, some turn to drugs to mask their depression, according to the kids I have spoken to.

Children are going through this struggle, not just in Haney but all around the world. How is methamphetamine getting into the hands of children and our friends–especially in such an beautiful place?

Programs for Youth In Maple Ridge
Youth Programs & Services
Youth Wellness
Iron Horse Youth Clinic
Maple Ridge Youth Strategy
Community Action Team
Maple Ridge Opioid Response Task Group
Child and Family Services Office

Metro Vancouver Crime Stoppers: 1-800 222-8477(TIPS)
Alcohol & Drug Information Services: 1-800 663-1441
Suicide Hotline: 1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE)
In any emergency, please call 9-1-1

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