It seems that Estevan has been hearing about methamphetamine or other drug-related arrests at least once a week lately. Tara Smart, who runs the drug-testing centre SE Options Consulting, believes there might be a frightening explanation to the increased presence of these drugs.
“I’d say especially in the last year or so we are just seeing things that we never used to see. For so many years basically, we just saw a lot of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical in marijuana responsible for a euphoric high). We never saw anyone really positive for meth or fentanyl. It was very, very rare. And now we are just seeing a lot more of it,” said Smart.
Her mother was running the business for over 20 years. Recently Smart and her husband bought it, and while being even closer to the operation they started noticing very alarming tendencies.
The centre has very strict confidentiality policies. They just collect information and are not enforcers of any kind. But the rise in the alarming cases they are seeing made them spread the word. Because even more frightening than just the traces of dangerous and highly addictive drugs was the facts that more and more people whose tests came positive for those narcotics weren’t aware that they consumed anything like that.
“We see people that come in and … (they) are genuinely shocked with the results of their drug tests because they were certain that they were maybe positive for THC or something. And then meth and/or cocaine shows up as well,” said Smart.
The centre is coming across more and more cases like that, which makes specialists assume that people consume strong drugs not directly but mixed into something, allegedly, marijuana.
“Marijuana and things like that are being laced with things like fentanyl, meth,” said Smart. “Drug dealers, they don’t care about people’s safety. They just care about business. So the faster you can get someone hooked…”
People think that they may just smoke a joint and might be positive for that, but the results show that they are in more trouble. Besides high, methamphetamine and fentanyl get people chemically addicted very quickly. Smart said they see less fentanyl use than meth, but there was none before.
She believes that’s been going on all across Canada and in general, isn’t something new, but for Estevan, it is a problem that didn't exist in the community throughout the past few years.
“We haven’t seen a lot of it until more recently.”
To a certain degree, the tendency might be a sad spin-off of cannabis legalization. The prices at the licensed cannabis stores remain higher than at the black market, while the consumption of marijuana was normalized. Which means that people are more likely to smoke a joint, but trying to save money still buy it from illegal dealers not knowing what exactly they are getting.
“People need to be careful what they are buying and using,” said Smart. “It’s frustrating because prices at dispensaries are probably double what you can get say from a dealer. That’s why so many people aren’t using the dispensaries because they can get it cheaper. However, they don’t know exactly what they are getting. They think they do. But our tests sometimes show otherwise.”
Smart also noted a rise in positive tests for opioid use, which also may be a sign of a growing heroin problem in Estevan.
“We are seeing more tests that have multiple ‘not negative,’” said Smart, recalling cases where they saw cocaine, THC and fentanyl all on the same screen.
Another scenario that the centre hears more and more about is situations where people get so drunk they don’t remember consuming drugs until others remind them after.
That’s not the first drug wave in Estevan, however, during the last Estevan boom years, most tests were positive for cocaine, which people could afford then and were consciously consuming. Now when most citizens don’t have the money to feed their addictions but feel the craving for a high, meth and fentanyl come into play putting the community’s safety under threat.
Smart has recently written a post on Facebook, outlining a dangerous tendency she and her staff are witnessing in the Estevan area. The post has been shared over 800 times.
She is a parent of three kids, and all of the centre’s employees have teenage children, so for them, the increasing presence of drugs in Estevan was not only a professional concern but also personal. Besides, Estevan is Smart’s hometown.
So the post was aimed at creating a safer environment, educating about the current situation and also encouraging parents to talk to their teenagers and make sure they know what they may get into without even knowing it.
“If you choose to smoke a joint or something like that, you must be aware that it may not just be that kind of thing.”
And this problem is relevant to not just teenagers.
“For us everything is about safety… And these are community members out there working in safety-sensitive jobs. These are our families, our husbands…”
Smart believes not just teenagers, but the entire community should be aware of a possible danger
“What you see isn’t always what you get. Just be very careful with your decisions,” said Smart.