Meth in Moose Jaw Pt. 4: A Day in Drug Court


Robert Thomas

With Meth being highly addictive, it invariably leads many of it's users into conflict with the law. Addicts need their supply, and often to finance the high they resort to petty or other crimes to obtain what it is they're looking for. 

For many of those for whom Meth has it's talons clenched into, there are second chances; that chance is called Drug Court. Drug court is an alternative to the traditional court process that focuses more on rehabilitation than it does punishment. Held weekly, addicts who are not under charge for serious offences are offered a chance, a life-line thrown to a drowning victim in a 10m wave, which hopefully saves a life or pulls a soul back from the brink of desolation. A chance for treatment, supervision and support, instead of hard time. A possible reprieve from the desperation of addiction.

The first thing you notice about Drug Court is not the adversarial Crown v. Accused-type situation you will see in regular Criminal Court. It's informal. However, It's still court and there is still decorum to be followed. There's a good shot a person might mess up in Drug Court. If you mess up and don't follow the stringent rules, you go back to regular criminal court, which could lead to jail.

In eight short minutes, in one sitting at Drug Court, the fates of three individuals were decided right in front of my eyes. Three individuals on separate journeys, at separate stages within the judicial system.

“It is a pleasure to meet you,” Judge Carol Schnell said to the first person before her docket.

On her desk lay a file, and within that file were reports about this one individual’s life and recent activities. It was filled with things such as a report about a recent drug screen being random, a request for an absence from the program, plus a written report from the person in treatment about their recent activities. In about 55 seconds, the person rose and talked about ordinary everyday challenges; like how hard it was to lose weight and quit smoking. He spoke about how he had been out to family dinners and for the “first time in seven years” spent Christmas with his daughter.

Today was also a day of great accomplishments, and for the first time in years, he was moving out to live on his own. He had properly filled out the corresponding paperwork and had been approved. Something routine and trivial for most people, but in Drug Court, your treatment\recovery team needs to assess whether or not you are ready, and if the move is appropriate for your recovery.

The Crown Prosecutor rose and congratulated the man saying "this gentleman, who has done so well, I'm happy to see it.”

At the end, the judge commended the accused for his actions and offered him a reward; something from the fish bowl. There on a table was a fish bowl and the accused reached in and pulled out a prize. “A gift card,” he said as he sat down.

The second person up was just hoping to start his journey.  His matter was adjourned until after discussions with the Federal Crown Prosecutor, but he would have to attend regular Criminal Court the following Monday. 

Drug charges are the responsibility of and are prosecuted by the Federal Crown, not the Province.

He still needed to go through his interview and assessment to see if Drug Court would accept him. The Court advised him to speak to his Legal Aid Lawyer. A chance at turning his life around through Drug Court held off for another day.

Getting approved to enter the Drug Court system is a lot like a job interview. Not everybody gets in and you have to meet certain qualifications, plus pass an intake interview.

The third person on the docket was not in court that day? He was in detox. As a condition of his release from jail, he had been ordered to make a doctors appointment. He failed to do so. There was talk about “dishonesty” in his release. He did, however, check himself into a detox program; which he had promised to do.  This seemed like a major step backward for the man; and it was possible he was headed back to jail. But there appeared a second chance on the horizon. His case was postponed until the next session of drug court. His file would be updated then. 

It should be noted that the Court never stated exactly which drugs were responsible for bringing these people in front of Judge Carol Schnell. Only that it was the addiction to narcotics.

As I left drug court that day, I wondered to myself, how it is that and in what way does meth interact with the brain? How was it capable of completely changing the characteristics of ordinary people? How did it drive them to do things most people wouldn't think normal of them? What changes these people into the slaves of meth? 

I remembered reading about how meth boosts the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine and then prevents it's re-uptake so as to increase dopamine levels. Dopamine levels build up, releasing a long-lasting,  euphoric high in the reward centres of the brain.  It is described as an immediate rush; a release from inhibitions and a journey to a better place. Dopamine levels from meth rise higher than having sex or opioids.

The problem with meth, though, is that it is highly addictive, approximately 10% of first time users are addicted to it. Addicts will do almost anything to obtain it, as tolerance levels build. It rewires the brain and effects both the cognitive and emotional functions. It can lead to psychosis. Meth’s high is centred in the Limbic system of the brain, which also controls emotions such as anger and fear. By altering this area of the brain, meth users can easily develop paranoid, aggressive or violent states of mind. Violence makes headline news. 

Physically, over time, meth permanently disfigures. It burns the body out slowly as it eats away at the flesh, until death becomes the final release. On that journey, weight loss can be drastic, people lose their healthy and youthful looks. They begin to age prematurely and the battery acid used in it's manufacture will rapidly rot out the teeth. Withdrawal is a psychological torment, as a re-wired brain takes extended periods to recover from meth abuse. It is a false Messiah….

With these facts so readily available, why would anyone even think about using meth, let alone actually committing oneself to doing it?

I thought about what I had witnessed in Drug Court; which is not just a court, it is intensive treatment for an illness; and I wondered whether Drug Court was the answer? To the victims of these petty crimes, does it represent justice, or is it just an easy way out for offenders?

All I can say, from what I saw in those eight short minutes at drug court, was one person hoping to get in, attempting to make the absolute best of a tough situation; another person failing, without knowing what will come next and one person breaking free and slowly re-building his life and relationship with his daughter.

NEXT – Cold Hard Statistics

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