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Popularity of crack a growing problem

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 21/05) - Crack cocaine continues to plague police and drug addictions counsellors in the NWT.

Cpl. Larry O'Brien, the head of the RCMP's G Division Drug Section, said when he started in drug enforcement in 2001, powdered cocaine and marijuana were the main illegal drugs in the NWT.

"Over the last few years, crack has become predominant," O'Brien says.

The switch is partly because dealers make more money from crack and the drug is more potent than the powdered form of cocaine.

"I think it's pretty much their tastes have changed," O'Brien said of users. "I can't say there's been an increase in use."

Instead, he says it may only appear that way because of the increased public and media attention on crack cocaine.

As for methamphetamine, he said there is no evidence it is in the NWT.

"We're not seeing a market develop," he said.

The RCMP's efforts in battling drug trafficking concentrates on getting the dealers at the top of the heap, he said.

O'Brien said enforcement is a team approach by the division's three-member drug section and the detachments.

"If they're doing their jobs and I'm doing my job, we're going to make a difference," he said.

While noting all police officers always would like more resources, O'Brien said there are enough officers in the NWT to fight the drug trade, pointing to seizures and arrests in recent months in Hay River, Inuvik and Yellowknife.

He also notes the RCMP will have its own police dog in November.

"That will be a huge benefit to us," he said.

Despite the attention paid to illegal drugs, O'Brien said alcohol is still the drug causing the most problems in the NWT.

Despite what O'Brien said, Rob Genaille, a community wellness worker in Fort Smith, believes illegal drug use has become more widespread in the NWT over the last three years.

"It seems like there's more drug activity, specifically crack," he said, blaming the increase on the low price and availability. Genaille said the cravings for cocaine are more intense than for alcohol.

Una Simon, another addictions counsellor in Fort Smith, agrees crack cocaine seems to be the popular drug right now.

Both Genaille and Simon are concerned about the drug's effects on communities.

"We see people selling stuff and using rent and food money to buy crack," said Genaille. "It's devastating to a family."

Despite that, he and Simon believe alcohol continues to cause more problems.

"Alcohol is still #1," said Simon.

Genaille said addictions workers always need more resources and more training, but he feels they are making a difference. "I would hate to think what it would be like without it," he said. "It would be an absolute nightmare."