More Londoners are using crystal meth — and dying from it — than people in other parts of the province, new data from the Middlesex London Health Unit shows.
In fact, Londoners are using crystal meth at rate almost three times higher than the provincial average. From 2018 to 2020, death rates from the drug more than tripled in this region. Each year, the death rate from methamphetamine has been higher in London than the rest of the province.
“For the folks that I take care of at Inter-Community Health Center, crystal meth is a survival drug. Most of my patients are living in some kind of housing instability, and crystal meth is a survival mechanism,” said Dr. Andrea Sereda, who works with people who use and inject drugs.
“We all know the severity of the housing crisis in London and other cities in Canada has really been uncovered during COVID, and there’s a really significant cohort of people who are outside with no real hope of coming inside, and with that comes a certain level of desperation.”
As the potency of fentanyl has increased and people’s tolerances and doses have increased, more people are using crystal meth alongside opioids, Sereda said.
“When you think of sleeping rough, in unsheltered housing, in a shelter, or if you’re in a doorway, if you’re lucky enough to have a tent, being asleep is very unsafe. That’s when they have their belongings stolen, that’s where may be physical assault, that’s when women face higher levels of sexual violence, so when you use crystal meth, you can stay awake for a lot longer, sometimes for days. In that context, crystal meth use is a very reasonable and adaptive response to having to be outside.”
Meth use appears to be increasing in Middlesex-London and impacting the community more than the rest of the province, according to a report presented at the Middlesex-London Health Unit board meeting Thursday night.
“Methamphetamine toxicity death rates in Middlesex-London were significantly higher than rates across Ontario from 2018 to 2020, and the rate reported in Middlesex-London in 2020 was 2.8 times higher than the rate across the rest of Ontario,” the report states.
Across Canada, just over half of opioid deaths in 2020 also involved a stimulant such as crystal meth.
“These findings may be reflective of increased availability of methamphetamine within the drug supply, and potential polysubstance use throughout the pandemic,” it states.
Hospital rates increasing
Interacting with people who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol creates challenges for officers, said Const. Scott Mandich of London Police.
“Officers are also cognizant that many suffer from alcohol and/or drug addictions; hence a sense of empathy is important with these interactions as well. The safety of everyone is paramount and officers receive training in relation to dealing with people who may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol,” he said in an email.
London police work with a number of agencies to help people with drug addiction issues, he added.
The health unit received funding earlier this year from the Public Health Agency of Canada to try to quantify the impacts of crystal meth use in the region.
In 2019 and into 2020, overall visits, as well as those by people using crystal meth, increased at London’s Carepoint, the supervised drug consumption site run by Regional HIV/AIDS Connection. Visits decreased in March 2020, due to the pandemic. Similarly, emergency room visits associated with stimulant use increased each year from 2016 to 2019, but dipped in 2020 because of the pandemic.
Rates of hospital visits and hospitalization because of stimulant use, including crystal meth, are higher here than elsewhere in the province.