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On Thin Ice was a six part series.

On Thin Ice was a six-part series.

My first blog made it clear why I did not read the full series On Thin Ice when it ran in The London Free Press back in October of 2005.

To write today’s blog I had to force myself to read the complete series and now I have to force myself to eat some crow.

Fifth Estate Dark Crystal

Fifth Estate Dark Crystal


Before continuing, it is important to understand the climate in which The London Free Press series was conceived and written. You see, in March of 2005 CBC’s the Fifth Estate aired Dark Crystal, detailing the supposed facts on crystal meth use across Canada. The crystal menace was reportedly as cheap as it was toxic and its popularity was spreading fast. In the city of Kamloops and the area around it, crystal meth was now the drug of choice for young people .

ZAmanda CanadayAmanda Canaday, a pretty young teen from the town of Barriere, 45 minutes north of Kamloops, was one of those featured in the television report. The CBC Fifth Estate site tells us, “At a community meeting about crystal meth, Amanda read a poem she’d written about her addiction.” This makes a great story and it was probably great television, very touching but also not true. Canaday did not write the poem. Versions of the poem have been available on the Internet for years. (It seems no one at the Fifth Estate thought to check the Internet.)

Newsweek Cover Story

Newsweek Cover Story

Five months later, in August of 2005, Newsweek ran the cover story Meth: America’s Most Dangerous Drug. Soon afterwards, Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert was waving a copy of the U.S. weekly news magazine containing the story and declaring, “I don’t ever want to see that kind of headline on the cover of Macleans.”

Slate ran an excellent article, Meth Madness at Newsweek, by Jack Shafer. He wrote: “But for all Newsweek‘s hysteria, it fails to deliver. For instance, if meth is America’s most dangerous drug, how many people has it killed? Newsweek doesn’t bother to explore the topic . . . you’d think the magazine would have provided some sort of body count.”

But Newsweek was read by more folk than Slate and the CBC had a strong, influential media presence in Canada. The infatuation with crystal meth in the media was spreading as fast as the “epidemic” itself. Crystal meth was a big story, it had to be covered and as all the facts were apparently already known, it was a story that just about wrote itself.

Which brings me to my plate of crow and my nod to the excellent reporting skills of Kate Dubinski. Possibly I should also be tipping my hat to the newsroom leadership at The Free Press, such as Paul Berton and Joe Ruscitti.

An important part of any series like this is bringing the topic home, giving it a strong local angle. Kate Dubinski did this in spades. Dubinski introduced us to Krista, a London speed freak to use the term from my youth. Krista, 42 at the time of the interview, was 16 when she first got high on crystal meth. She found speed graceful, shadowy, and for 26 years it had been a part of her life. Some people like a glass of wine; Krista leaned towards a spot of speed.

Krista is not the meth user of almost all other reports.  Krista, as Dubinski draws her, is a real woman, with a name, a home, children. Krista’s life is made up of successes and failures, as are most lives, but Krista has one constant through it all: crystal meth. Dubinski is hitting her stride as she writes, “Krista is the other face of methamphetamine use.” Krista was not one of the teens officials were worried about; Krista was the woman those teens could become.

Krista was a mother of three but it was not an easy, comfortable relationship that she enjoyed with her children. Her 26-year-old son had cut her out of his life, while her daughters, 12 and 16, had been removed by the Children’s Aid Society.

Krista hadn’t lost her teeth to crystal meth but she had lost her children to her addiction. And this seems so much worse. Of course, Krista didn’t see herself as an addict. She’s not a junkie. She’s a speedo, a drug-using regular person.

Reading about Krista made me recall my summer of 1969 spent in San Francisco, California. A popular album among the freaks of the day was The Street Giveth and the Street Taketh Away. Krista said that speed, her street drug of choice, gave her happiness. Yet at Christmas, or when the kids had birthdays, meth seemed to taketh away. She would get high four days before Christmas, and again before the kids’ birthdays. She missed all these traditionally important family times.

I found myself pulling for Krista. Even now, as I write these lines, I think of Krista and pray she has kept monster meth on the short leash. I hope she has kept to her schedule and kept her health. Or, better yet, maybe she has faced her addiction, fought it, and been reunited with her family. I don’t know.

But, Dubinski’s writing made me care.

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Faces of Meth

Faces of Meth

The next blog in this series will look at the Faces of Meth. A well done bit of propaganda published by everyone doing a meth story. The London Free Press was no exception.

Addendum: The NYT opinion piece by Nicholas D. Kristof, Drugs Won the War, has elicited a response: Time to End Prohibition for Drugs by Michael G. Brautigam, a former prosecutor. Read his response and following comments.

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