Fear and loathing
Sam was 18 when he first started using methamphetamine.
He’d smoke it on occasion with his friends, but it wasn’t long before he began using increasing amounts on an almost daily basis. Sam soon became a full-fledged meth addict.
“By the time I hit my peak, I was shooting it and putting up to one gram into a needle,” he said. “I was about as suicidal as you can get.”
The use of methamphetamine, a highly addictive drug that is manufactured illegally in home-made labs, has become a growing problem across the country.
Sam (not his real name), is a 26-year-old recovering meth addict who recently graduated from a four-month treatment program at the Colorado West Recovery Center in Glenwood Springs. He agreed to tell his personal story on the condition of anonymity.
According to Sam, the effects of shooting meth – or “slamming” – are intense.
“Your whole body goes flush,” he explained. “When you shoot it, your eyeballs move back and forth. It makes your head race so fast, you can’t concentrate.”
Escaping reality is part of the attraction of the drug.
“It drowns out all the badness in your life,” Sam said. “You can’t think.”
Since meth affects the body’s central nervous system, it will often cause its users to engage in repetitive behavior, doing the same thing over and over again.
“I’d have a habit of taking things apart that weren’t broken,” Sam said. “You’re always moving. It’s like drinking three pots of coffee. You pick at your face, you lose weight. You can’t sit still.”
As with many meth addicts, he also became extremely paranoid. A small hole in the wall had to be covered up with tape. Someone was watching. Someone was after him.
“I carried a 9mm gun for a while and a knife,” he said. “Meth is a whole different subculture of paranoid people. Once I started doing it, I became paranoid – you think everyone is after you.”
Sam knew meth dealers who were so paranoid they had cameras all over their homes, both inside and out, along with a cache of firearms. “They had cameras up and down the street and could see you coming from three blocks away,” Sam said.
The effects of meth can last for hours and it takes the body about 24 hours to metabolize the drug. If another dose is taken before that time, the longevity of the effect increases.
Sam was once up for 14 days before he “crashed” and fell asleep.
“I was mad at my friends for letting me sleep,” he said. “When you’re coming off, you sleep a lot. Your biological clock is all wigged out and you can sleep all day. But you’re still paranoid and weird and you can have hallucinations.”
Sam’s circle of friends changed as he became a meth addict.
“It’s like a whole underground world,” he said. “It’s a group of people who live for the drug. You’re always searching for it and other people are always searching for it.”
As his addiction grew, Sam became a different person. A soft-spoken, articulate young man with a good sense of humor and a quick smile, Sam said he had always been artistic.
“I had always liked to draw,” he said. “But I lost all ability to be creative.”
Sam began not only using meth on a daily basis, but making and selling it as well.
“I can make it in two hours,” he said.
The hub of meth lab activity in this area is in Grand Junction, according to Sam. Among meth users, the city is nicknamed “Spun Junction,” reflecting one of the slang terms for getting high on meth, “spun out.”
“There’s one very large dealer right around here,” Sam said. “And people sell it for them. It runs up and down the valley from Carbondale to Rifle to Parachute.”
Part of the problem with methamphetamine is how easily it can be manufactured using products that can be purchased over the counter. It can be made in a kitchen, bathroom, a motel room or even in the trunk of a car.
The primary ingredient used is pseudoephedrine and ephedrine, commonly found in cold and allergy medicines, which can be purchased in a drug store.
Other key ingredients include toxic and flammable materials such as anhydrous ammonia (a chemical used to fertilize crops), rubbing alcohol, brake cleaner, ether, drain cleaner, camera battery acid, crystal iodine, sodium metal (made from lye), kerosene, gasoline, paint thinner and table salt.
In an HBO television special documentary aired last spring, “Crank: Made in America,” Dan Salter of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Clandestine Lab Unit in Quantico, Va., said almost anyone can make meth.
“You don’t have to be a chemist, you don’t have to be a scientist,” Salter said. “If you can make sugar cookies, you can make meth.”
There are several different methods to making the drug, and recipes can even be found on the Internet.
“The sad thing about meth is that you don’t know what you’re getting,” said Jeff Lawson, program coordinator for the Colorado West Recovery Center.
Stores limit ingredient sales
The DEA is tracking the purchase of ingredients used in the manufacturing of meth, and some stores are limiting the quantities they will sell of those products.
The new Wal-Mart Supercenter in Rifle, for example, has a sign posted on each checkout stand that reads:
“Wal-Mart is voluntarily working with the D.E.A. in limiting the purchase quantity of certain medications and diet aids. We apologize for any inconvenience.”
Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said red flags are raised when certain chemicals or medications are purchased in large quantities.
“Crystal iodine, for example, is a strong hazardous chemical used in manufacturing,” Vallario said. “A rancher might use it for hoof rot. One small bottle would probably last a rancher a lifetime. But all of a sudden, the stores are selling it by the case.”
Besides the hazard of fires or explosions when mixing the chemicals, a meth lab also presents a problem to drug enforcement officials, who must wear special hazardous materials suits when raiding a lab.
The by-products of meth manufacturing leave behind toxic, hazardous materials that stay in the walls, carpeting and furniture of a home, making it unhealthy to live in and costs thousands of dollars to clean up.
Along with the destruction and toxic materials meth leaves in its wake, meth also destroys lives, both physically and emotionally.
A life filled with hate
“Before I started, I hated meth heads,” Sam said. “I hated meth. But I had turned into what I hated. My wife did it and she committed adultery. I started shooting it and in a way I was trying to accommodate her – to get her back.”
Physically, meth users will typically lose a lot of weight, lose their hair, their teeth and develop sores on their bodies. Emotionally, they lose touch with reality.
As Sam sunk lower and lower into the depths of drug addiction – using, cooking and selling meth – he said he hated himself and everyone around him.
“I was happy I was destroying people and bringing them down with me,” Sam said. “(We) were going to hell and I was driving the bus.”