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Stereotypes, stigma about meth make finding help harder for users

Young and meth addicted

Stereotypes about people who use methamphetamine drastically reduce access to already scarce harm reduction and health services, especially for youth, according to a new report.
 
Youth who use meth, a powerful stimulant, often do so for practical reasons like staying awake in order to stay safe, study or work, the report found. But assumptions about meth users being violent, unpredictable or “zombie-like” often leave youth reluctant to  seek care for fear of being dismissed or belittled.
 
And support for users suffering from sleep deprivation and safe spaces to rest are few and far between,  particularly for youth who are street-entrenched or who work nights. 
 
Many also become ineligible for youth treatment programs when they turn 18 or 19, and face even longer waits for access.
 
“When it comes to meth, and it being so demonized by media, the assumptions that youth are psychotic and are crazy just aren’t true,” said Kali Sedgemore, a peer outreach worker in Vancouver.  “They’re using it to stay awake and to survive.”
 
Sedgemore is executive director of the Coalition of Peers Dismantling the Drug War and participated in the  January 2020 youth summit that led to the recent report, prepared in partnership with the BC Centre on Substance Use.
 
They said being stigmatized by health-care providers, employers and landlords makes youth who use meth reluctant to ask for help. And if they do seek help, few resources exist.
 
“It’s discouraging having that experience with using meth and just finding there was nothing out there,” said Sedgemore.
 
The report urges B.C. to develop more meth-specific sleep support like dedicated housing for youth and  prescription or over-the-counter medication. It also calls for compassionate and anti-racist care and expanded treatment options, including safer supply, that are targeted at youth.
 
Rod Knight, the report’s lead researcher, said it is understandable many resources are focused on opioids, as their increasing toxicity has led to more than 6,000 deaths in B.C. since 2016. But he says there should be more focus on the role that meth can play in overdoses and deaths, as well as their  other harms for youth.
 
“We know that for many young people, crystal meth use co-occurs with other forms of substance use,” said  Knight.
 
In the most recent report on overdose deaths in B.C., meth and other amphetamines were a relevant factor in 35 per cent of deaths. Meth’s presence in toxicology tests of victims more than doubled from 14 per cent in 2012 to 39 per cent in 2019.
 
In the first six months of 2020, 60 youth under 24 died of drug toxicity in B.C.



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