Meth making its mark |

Meth making its mark

Heidi Rice
Kelley Cox Photo Illustration The life of a methamphetamine user can quickly decline into a world of chaos and paranoia. Meth has been called the number one drug problem in rural America, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

Sam didn’t think he’d ever live to see his 26th birthday.

He didn’t believe he’d ever again appreciate the beauty of a rose. He wasn’t able to take care of his children. He felt he was dying a slow and agonizing death.

Sam (not his real name) is a recovering methamphetamine addict.

He’s smoked it, shot it intravenously, cooked it and dealt it. He’s stayed up for 14 days in a row. He was suicidal.

But miraculously on his 26th birthday Sam was learning to live clean and sober as a resident of the Colorado West Recovery Center in Glenwood Springs. He recently graduated from the four-month program and has returned to his hometown in northwest Colorado.

Methamphetamine use has become a growing problem across the nation, and the Rocky Mountains and Western Slope are no exception.

The road to recovery from the drug is rocky, with a very low success rate. But in the hopes of saving even one other person from the hell that is meth addiction, Sam was ready and willing to tell his story.

Sam was 18 years old when he first tried smoking methamphetamine. After work, he had gone to his cousin’s house, where they were smoking some meth, and he tried it.

“I’d always been a pot smoker,” he said. “So I jumped right in. I didn’t get into it that much at first. I’d have it here and there. But I never bought it or chased it down. It wasn’t an everyday need until this last year, when a lot of bad stuff happened to me.”

Sam was married at the time, with three young children. His wife was a full-fledged meth addict. She cheated on Sam and to escape the pain of her infidelity, he turned to meth.

“I was smoking it, then shooting it,” he said. “After that, it was all downhill. I spent every day chasing it.”

And it wasn’t hard to get.

“You make a phone call and it can be delivered,” Sam said. “It’s everywhere.”

What is methamphetamine?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, methamphetamine is a powerfully addictive stimulant that dramatically affects the central nervous system. It was developed in the early 1900s from its parent drug, amphetamine, and used originally in nasal decongestants and bronchial inhalers.

With a chemical structure similar to amphetamine, methamphetamine has a more pronounced effect, causing increased activity, decreased appetite and a general sense of well-being. The effects can last six to eight hours.

And while both drugs have some medical uses, primarily in the treatment of obesity, their therapeutic use is limited.

“The central nervous system actions that result from taking even small amounts of methamphetamine include increased wakefulness, increased physical activity, decreased appetite, increased respiration, hyperthermia and euphoria,” the National Institute on Drug Abuse Web site reports.

“Other (central nervous system) effects include irritability, insomnia, confusion, tremors, convulsions, anxiety, paranoia and aggressiveness. Hyperthermia and convulsions can result in death.”

Methamphetamine can be made in illegal laboratories and is referred to on the street as “meth,” “speed,” “crank” and “chalk.” It comes in various forms and in a crystal state, which is smoked, is often called “ice,” “crystal” or “glass.”

Meth users will snort it, smoke it, eat it or shoot it into their veins with a needle. The drug is most commonly sold on the street in quarter grams, half grams, full grams, “teeners” (1.5 grams) and “eight balls” (3.5 grams).

The street price is about the same as cocaine – ranging from $25 for a quarter gram to $100 for a full gram – but the high from meth is more intense and the effect longer-lasting.

Spreading like ‘wildfire’

According to Mac Myers, district attorney for the 9th Judicial District west of Eagle County, criminal cases involving methamphetamine have increased over the past several years.

“It’s been on the rise for several years and becoming more and more frequent,” Myers said. “There’s definitely an increase. And when you have a drug that is as dangerous as meth, it’s a problem.”

The Colorado West Recovery Center in Glenwood Springs has seen an increase in the last year in the number of patients addicted to methamphetamine, and an increase in younger users.

“In our facility, we’re seeing young people in their 20s and 30s,” said Jeff Lawson, program coordinator for the center. “In past history, we had an older generation (addicted to) alcohol and coke in ages from 30 to 50. Now we’re seeing a younger clientele come in. And we’re seeing more women come through here.”

In an HBO special television documentary released last spring called “Crack: Made in America,” Asa Hutchinson, director of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington, D.C., said methamphetamine use has spread all across the country.

“It is the No. 1 drug problem in rural America,” Hutchinson said. “It started on the West Coast, moved across the prairie states of the United States and, like a wildfire, it has left a lot of devastation in its wake.”

The split between male and female clients coming into Colorado West addicted to meth is now about 50-50, according to Lawson.

And although the drug is more prevalent in the young generation, it is also used by the middle-age range as well.

“You have ‘super mom’ who cooks, cleans and is taking the kids to school and other activities,” Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said. “She does a hit of meth and has a lot more energy.”

Some women get into methamphetamine because of the decreased appetite and weight loss that goes with it.

Dr. Nicholas Taylor, a private practice psychologist with Taylor Behavioral Health in Montrose, has treated numerous methamphetamine addicts.

“There’s a specific pull to women,” Taylor said. “I’ve had women come in and say, ‘Look! I’ve never weighed 105 pounds before!’ The truth is, they look like death warmed over.”

Addicted to meth

It doesn’t take long to become addicted to meth.

“I believe people move quickly from casual to heavy use,” Taylor said.

He defines casual use as someone who does a line or two at a party once or twice a month; moderate use as a quarter gram once a week; and heavy users as those who use four to five times per week.

In the drug world, occasional users are known as “chippers,” while heavy users are called “tweakers.”

As use progresses, it will typically move from snorting the drug, to smoking it and then shooting it up.

Smoking or shooting the drug will quickly produce an intense sensation known as a “rush” or a “flash.” Oral ingestion or snorting will cause a euphoric high that can last for as long as half a day.

Tweakers display almost psychotic behavior, along with extreme paranoia, Taylor said.

“They believe things that aren’t true, they see things that aren’t true,” he said.

Tweakers will often engage in repetitive behavior such as taking things like a television or cell phone apart and putting it back together. They will clean things and not be able to stop. They will have sex and not be able to stop.

“We’ve seen someone wash a spoon over and over and over again,” Vallario said. “Or paint a wall, over and over and over. Whatever they start doing, they can’t stop. They can’t quit the behavior.”

Along with paranoia, hallucinations, mood disturbances and weight loss, the use of methamphetamine can cause the loss of teeth, hair and create sores on the skin. Long-term use can eventually result in stroke and possibly death.

er See Meth, page A9

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