Sam knew he had a problem with methamphetamine and that his addiction to the drug was causing his life to spin out of control.
But it wasn’t until his father stepped in that he made his first attempt at getting help.
Sam (not his real name), 26, is just one in a growing number of people across the country and in the Rocky Mountain West who are using, making and selling methamphetamine – a highly addictive drug that can be easily made in homemade labs.
Law enforcement officials say meth is now the No. 1 drug problem in rural areas.
With three young sons, Sam found that he increasingly could not care for his children as he moved from occasionally smoking meth to shooting it up on nearly a daily basis.
“After I first started really getting into it, my dad came over and said he was going to take the kids away from me,” Sam said. “I said OK, because I didn’t want them to see me like that. I didn’t want them to see who I was. I was an emotional wreck.”
Over the next several months, Sam would go to visit his children at his father’s house.
“I would just cry and hold onto my kids,” he said.
And while he knew in his heart he needed help, he was also afraid to leave the underworld he had grown accustomed to and the drug to which he had become so addicted. Then one day his father came over and confiscated Sam’s glass pipe and scale, items used to smoke the drug and weigh it for sale, and ran off.
“I chased after him and he knocked me down,” Sam said, pointing to a scar he still has on his upper lip. “Then I chased him to his house and he called the cops.”
The police found a quantity of meth on Sam and he was arrested and later sentenced to 36 days in jail. “That’s when I started cleaning up,” he said. “That’s when I started seeing what I was doing.”
In July 2003, Sam entered a treatment program at the Colorado West Recovery Center in Glenwood Springs.
Relapsing back into meth
According to an HBO special television documentary released last spring, “Crank: Made in America,” only 6 percent of meth users stay sober. It’s the lowest recovery rate of any drug. Sam lasted for two months in the Colorado West Recovery Center.
“While I was there, I was very complacent,” Sam recalled. “I don’t think I was ready to be clean. I knew I was going to relapse because I wasn’t learning.”
He didn’t follow the rules of the center and he didn’t work on his recovery program. “If they had a rule, I’d try to break it,” Sam said.
He was discharged from the center at the end of September. Sam stayed clean for about two weeks. “Then my ex-wife came over from the bar with a guy and they had a bunch of dope they put out on the table,” he said.
Sam watched as they began shooting up the meth and he hesitated before putting out his arm. “Hit me,” he said he told them.
Once back into it, Sam began cooking meth in motel rooms.
“I got worse than I had ever been,” he said.
And then he had what he calls a “spiritual awakening.”
“I opened my eyes and realized I was going nowhere,” he said. “I had nothing to offer anyone. I had nothing to offer myself. It’s like AIDS. You lose weight, your teeth fall out. It’s a slow death. I looked in the mirror and I freaked out.”
Sam called Colorado West and asked to be accepted back into the program.
“I was scared, but I knew it was a good place,” he said.
But he needed to come up with $500 to get into the center.
“My dad gave me the money and he was crying,” Sam said.
On Dec. 17, 2003, Sam went back into the Colorado West Recovery Center. He recently graduated and has now returned to his hometown in northwest Colorado to put his life back in order.
For 18 years, the nonprofit Colorado West Recovery Center in Glenwood Springs has offered help to substance abusers. The center serves three counties and 12-15 municipalities, providing non-hospitalization detoxification services.
“We have a four- to six-month transitional living program where (clients) live, work and receive treatment,” said Jeff Lawson, program coordinator for the recovery center. “We try to transition them into society and into a sober environment.”
Clients use the tools they learn at the center to help them stay clean and sober in the outside world. The 18-bed facility currently houses 10 men and eight women, and there is a waiting list to get in.
Clients, mainly from the Western Slope, come into the center either from the court probation department, Department of Corrections, Social Services or on their own. The recovery center offers programs for both men and women, sobriety, relapse prevention and self improvement.
The program provides its clients with room, board, therapy and conducts random drug testing.
But the Colorado West Recovery Center has recently suffered drastic cuts in funding. It has had to request funding assistance from city and county governments and local hospitals.
According to Kenneth M. Stein, executive director of Colorado West Regional Mental Health, a study by Columbia University showed that Colorado ranked 47th in the number of states providing adequate substance abuse treatment and funding in the country.
Without the Colorado West detox facility, local authorities have no place to take substance abusers.
Children become victims
It’s not only the meth addict who suffers from the effects of the drug. Children who live in homes where meth is being used are often neglected and abused.
“Thirty to 35 percent of seized meth labs are in homes where children reside,” reports Colorado Drug Endangered Children Inc.
Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said it’s the effect on innocent kids that angers him the most about meth use.
“The problem with children is that parents on meth forget about them,” he said. “We’re finally starting to recognize that kids in homes of meth users are being neglected. There’s been some successful legislation to prosecute more aggressively if children are involved. There’s additional criminal charges.”
Vallario related horror stories of kids in meth homes. One child drank from a jar containing a blue substance he believed was Gatorade. It was a toxic solution used to make meth.
“It took him three days to die,” Vallario said. “A big portion of what we’re doing now is protecting the kids. I have no sympathy for the tweakers, particularly for (meth-using) parents whose kids are being neglected and abused by them using this drug.”
Sam determined to beat it
Despite the low recovery rate for meth, Sam firmly believes that this time he is going to beat his addiction.
His attitude has changed. He is positive and he is determined to be one of the few to escape the clutches of methamphetamine.
“This time, I’m confident that I’ll never relapse again,” he said with a smile. “I’m working my program and I’m doing what I’m told. I’ve given up control and I’m doing someone else’s program.”
Not that he doesn’t have his moments. Early in the treatment program, he experienced what is called a “trigger,” a brief urge to go back.
“For about 10 minutes I thought about drugs and I almost passed out,” he said. “But I took all the steps and the tools I’ve learned and I used them. It’s amazing, after actually listening to what they say here, how the stuff actually works.”
“This is a great place to be,” he said during a January interview at the treatment center. “I’m where I belong. I’m proud to be here, and I’m proud to be clean and sober. This is my family. I’m home right now.”
Sam has told his story in the hopes that others won’t follow in his footsteps.
“In my experience, this drug breeds hate and discontent,” he warned. “It destroys lives. Get away from it.”