‘It splits up families’: Devastating effects of meth use reaching rural Manitoba

As Winnipeg continues to deal with the effects of a meth crisis, communities in rural Manitoba are fighting their own battles with the devastating drug.

Southwest of Manitoba’s capital in Winkler, city officials and police say an increase in meth use is affecting safety.

In 2008 the Winkler Police Service made two arrests related to meth, compared to 30 meth-related arrests in 2018. Ryan Hunt, chief of Winkler police, stressed that his community is seeing more firearms in Winkler because of meth use, as well as petty crime.

“Stealing bicycles for one reason or another. Then just shoplifting small items and then there’s been the odd stolen vehicles that’s been involved in our drug investigations as well,” said Hunt.

Hunt also said every drug bust made in Winkler in 2018 was meth-related.

“It’s being made outside of Canada and then moved into Canada, probably through Vancouver. From the western provinces into Winnipeg and then it filters out into smaller communities like Winkler,” said Hunt.

Along with an impact on safety, Winkler mayor Martin Harder said meth use is hurting family dynamics within the small centre.

“When you have a loved one involved with use of crystal meth you see the destruction that takes place in that person’s life, it splits up a family. It splits up community. You have this divide that shouldn’t be there in the first place,” said Harder.

Ten minutes away in Morden, Mayor Brandon Burley said his community is also seeing petty crime like bicycle thefts because of meth use, pointing to a street downtown where he says there were five or six break-ins in the last two weeks.

“To back doors of businesses trying to find petty cash. Things that they can sell and quickly made money to get their next hit,” said Burley.

CTV News asked the Southern Health region if staff members are seeing more meth users coming through hospital doors. Noreen Shirtliff, acute & chief nursing officer executive director for Southern Health, confirmed the increase, but said staff are well-trained to help.

“Some have incidents of violence and in recent months we’ve definitely experienced that, but others who come to us after having used meth don’t become violent. And some come to us as victims of violence,” said Shirtliff.

“I think our health care system we’re learning to deal with the meth-related concerns.”

In a statement to CTV News, a spokesperson for Manitoba RCMP wrote:

“Manitoba RCMP is seeing an increase in the presence of methamphetamine (meth), which has become an increasing concern for all law enforcement throughout the province. The methamphetamine that enters Manitoba originates from a number of different source areas, both international and within Canada, before making its way through larger urban centres and ultimately to smaller communities. Despite the increase in the presence of methamphetamine in Manitoba, however, cocaine continues to be the predominant illicit drug within most Manitoba communities.”

Speaking with CTV News by phone, Insp. Jarrid St-Pierre said RCMP officers in Portage la Prairie now treat every call they attend as potentially related to meth, because of the division having to contend with an increase in violence.

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