Email this articleE-mail this story  Discuss this articleWrite letter to editor  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad
Growing menace of cocaine

"Super-human exterior" vanishes after short-lived high

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (Apr 04/03) - Cocaine is highly addictive and can be deadly.

That was what consultant and addictions counsellor Anne McGuire-Smith told delegates at a social development forum in Fort Simpson last week.

While cocaine is not viewed as a serious problem in the Deh Cho region yet -- there are only a few convictions for possession, all in Fort Liard -- that may change when and if the Mackenzie Valley pipeline goes through, thanks to the economic and social impacts that go along with such a large project.

McGuire-Smith said cocaine use is "increasing significantly" in the North and the cost of maintaining a cocaine habit is forcing some of its users to become dealers.

Although a rock of crack cocaine can sell for $20, the "high" it provides lasts only from a few minutes to an hour or two, McGuire-Smith noted. Therefore someone wanting to stay high all night could easily spend $100 or more, she suggested.

Cocaine, a white powder derived from the leaves of the coca plant, can be snorted, smoked or injected. What's purchased on the street is often mixed with similar looking powders, she said.

She knows of one man who bought some cocaine laced with strychnine.

"He has today the scars on his face from the effects of the strychnine on him," she said.

Cocaine hooks people from all walks of life, but particularly those with low self-esteem, McGuire-Smith said.

The drug over-stimulates the nervous system, boosting confidence, energizing the user and creating a temporary state of euphoria.

It gives them a "Superman sort of exterior," she noted.

But it's short-lived.

Dependence, depression

When the drug wears off, the user is left feeling lower than ever.

This creates dependence, to escape those feelings once again.

She said some addicts feel that they cannot enjoy life at all without the drug.

A person with a cocaine habit may be jittery, shaky, experience weight loss and suffer from a chronic runny nose.

Use of the drug can trigger a heart seizure or collapse of the lungs.

Chronic users often become very anxious and paranoid, according to McGuire-Smith. There is also the potential for users to become more violent and turn to crime, such as prostitution, to help fund their habit, she added.

Addicts require a recovery program that's tailored to overcoming cocaine, she said.

The recovery process is a lengthy one.

"It's not something that can be fixed in a 28-day treatment program," she said.

According to McGuire-Smith, it's important for people to learn the facts about cocaine and the associated warning signs.

"The reality is that drug use is out there and it's happening," she said, adding that circles of support must be built.

"There's hope that things can change ... we can work to pull together to help people."