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Drug is a destroyer

Meth proves to be physically and psychologically deadly, police believe production could come back to cities

Staff writer

Meth provides one of the most powerful and longest lasting highs of any illegal substance. It’s effect on an user’s life is defined by suffering.

Methamphetamine use and production still exist in Marion County.

Common methamphetamine ingredients include rubbing alcohol, ether, paint thinner, Freon, acetone, battery acid, camp stove fuel, and anhydrous ammonia to name some of them. Ingesting any one of these chemicals alone could prove fatal but will always most certainly lead to physical and psychological consequences .

The use of meth in any form — most commonly smoked, snorted, or injected — destroys the soft tissues of the body, Shirley Faulkner, Director of Substance Abuse Services for all six Prairie View locations, said. Meth can penetrate the blood barrier of the brain, the protective membrane designed to keep toxins from the brain and its function. When a brain scan is administered to a meth addict brain damage is extensive and visible.

The physical effects of meth are immense. “Serenity,” a former meth user who wished to have her identity concealed, lost all of her teeth and now wears dentures. She also has permanent pock marks on her face.

She also contracted Hepatitis C from injecting the drug.

Serenity has been clean for almost 15 years. She started using meth in the 1980s but stopped using before the drug hit its peak. She used before addicts started making the drug on their own.

Hillsboro Assistant Chief of Police Jessey Hiebert said that police busted the last lab in Hillsboro in 1998.

Faulkner said that users also experience extreme weight loss and memory impairment, “The short term memory is just gone,” she said.

The psychological effects are long-lasting and intense. It can take up to two years for someone who becomes abstinent to begin any type of normative functioning. Using meth is like riding a roller coaster, the highs and lows are extreme.

“When I first got high, everything about it was just so, so ..,”

Serenity said. “Just even thinking about it makes my heart speed up.

Everything was so important. Everything was so awesome.

“The lows were just the opposite. I wanted to commit suicide when I wasn’t high.”

Faulkner said that daily meth use, in addition to the tremendous cognitive impairment, creates high levels of anxiety, and extreme paranoia.

The drug can also cause hallucination, decreased social inhibitions and can be dangerous and even life threatening, not only to the addict, but to those they believe threaten them. Faulkner said that some users will see bugs on themselves and scratch at their skin until they bleed.

People are drawn to the drug by its intense, long-lasting high. When a person encounters the drug, they often find it hard to escape its strong clutches. Hiebert said the drug is as addictive or even more so than crack cocaine.

“(Users) draw a correlation between the high of meth and a full-body orgasm,” Hiebert said. “It has similar effects on the human body as cocaine, but with a hit of cocaine the high lasts 90 minutes. With a hit of meth, the high can last 12 hours.”

Serenity said that it took her almost two years to return to normal functioning. Serenity got clean in prison. She went to jail multiple times and prison twice over her 13 years of regular use. The first time she was incarcerated, she smoked pot in prison and then returned to her life on the outside.

The second time she went into prison, Serenity had more motivation to get clean.

“I wanted my kids to have a good mom,” she said.

Serenity entered a 12-step program in prison and she continues to be active in the 12-step lifestyle. Unlike the first time Serenity left prison, she moved away from her former friends and started a new life after the second time.

“I had to change everything about me,” she said. “I had to change my playmates and playgrounds.”

After more than 13 years of meth use, Serenity developed close relationships with her user friends. Cutting these toxic relationships is one of the most important but difficult tasks an addict encounters.

Serenity’s former best friend — a woman Serenity named one of her daughters after — contacted Serenity and asked if she could stay with Serenity.

“I had to tell her: ‘I can’t give you a place to stay,” Serenity said.

“It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I think about her all the time.”

The former drug user built new friendships with people in the 12-step program. She went to a meeting her first night on her own and as she continued to go to meetings, she started being invited to camp outs and dances associated with the 12-step program.

Serenity is also active in giving advice to younger members of the program. In one instance, she helped a woman who was facing prison time.

“I share my experiences of my life with them,” she said. “Hopefully, they can apply some of my experiences to their lives.”

Serenity has created a new happier life for herself.

“The main motivation for me staying clean is the way I feel,” she said. “I used to have such feelings of self loathing. I’m not a bad person.”

For eight years, she owned and operated her own business, and she is currently studying to be a nurse.

But, the ghosts of her past life haunt Serenity. All four of Serenity’s children and her two stepchildren are addicts. Two of her children are recovering from their addictions - her son from alcohol and her daughter has been clean two years from drugs.

Serenity has seen her youngest daughter strung out on meth.

“My youngest daughter is like a carbon copy of me when I was like her,” Serenity said. “She’s in an abusive relationship; there’s a lot of other life issues going on with her. I get to my point with her and make her appointment (for rehab) for her. It’s a very powerless feeling. She can decide not to go, and she just uses.”

Serenity has also had to jump through several legal hoops because of her history of drug use and prison time. She adopted her grandson, but her past almost got him taken away.

“One of my charges from 20 years ago was child endangerment. SRS is not going to give a child to someone charged with child endangerment,” she said. “I got back in touch with the DA who put me in prison. I had some pretty prominent people go to bat for me.”

Serenity also had to get special permission to go into nursing school and to do some of the training because she has Hepatitis C.

“I was never mad at SRS. They were trying to protect my grandson.

That’s a new way of thinking for me,” Serenity said of the legal barriers she has to overcome.

Despite the trials of former users, meth continues to be a big business in the United States and in Marion County.

Meth is still a profitable industry in Marion County Grams of meth run up to and beyond $200. From producer to user, the meth industry employs up to eight to 10 people, Hiebert said.

Marion County Sheriff Robert Craft said that the Sheriff’s office has a dedicated meth lab team. They are actively investigating labs on the outskirts of Marion County. Craft is also involved with educating people about the drug.

“A lot of it is public health and gathering information,” he said. “Education is a key. Not getting involved in the first place is paramount.”

Hiebert and Marion Police Chief Josh Whitwell said that meth production has ceased inside Marion County cities because of an evolution in policing the drug and the enactment of a law putting the purchase of cold medicines containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine behind pharmacy counters.

The main tool police use is a knowledgeable and aware populous. Neighbors smell the noxious odors of the lab — either a strong chemical or cat urine odor — or sanitation workers spot suspicious garbage. Store owners also alert police to suspicious purchases. Hiebert and Whitwell are both involved in programs to educate the public about meth and high school students about the danger of the drug.

The waste from meth production is immense. Dead giveaways include coffee filters encasing a pink residue, several empty cans of camping fuel, and empty blister packs from cold medicine.

Whitwell is expecting to see meth return to Marion County cities with the inception of the one-pot method. The one-pot method is when the right recipe of chemicals is placed in, most commonly, a two-liter soda bottle and a lithium strip from a battery is added to the mixture causing an explosive reaction. The method is extremely dangerous because such a violent reaction is encased in such a tight space, Whitwell said.

The one-pot method cuts down on the waste involved with production and creates a yield of 10 or 12 grams of meth.

“It’s cheaper now to make it than to buy it,” Whitwell said.

Last modified Jan. 28, 2010

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