- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 23, 2002

"I remember when I was 22, I said that I was glad that I was getting the drug phase out while I was young, because I didn't want to be in my 30s still doing dope," Jessica wrote this year in an e-mail message to the Koch Crime Institute in Topeka, Kan. Now, after 10 years of high-roller living on methamphetamine, she said, "I am looking at going to prison for five years." Her meth-using husband is in the slammer for the third time. Neither of her "two beautiful children" can live with her anymore.
"For anyone just starting to use or is thinking about using," Jessica wrote, "think of the Twin Towers when the terrorist attacked. Do you remember how beautiful and strong the two looked? But within seconds, there was complete chaos, total destruction, it took everything with it and then showed the face of the devil . That is only the beginning of what meth will show you. Don't get all methed up with meth."
For years, officials in Western states have battled methamphetamine, a cheap, easily made, highly addictive chemical stimulant.
Now the drug is "moving" East, and its growing popularity especially among women with children is troubling many officials.
"In Utah, meth has become the drug of choice for women because it helps them lose weight and be 'supermom,'" Robin Arnold-Williams, executive director of the Utah Department of Human Services, told a Senate hearing on welfare reform last month.
"This is the first drug women have enjoyed using," said Darrell Wehmeier of the Koch Crime Institute, which has been tracking meth since the mid-1990s.
"I think meth is the worst drug problem we've ever seen out there," Mr. Wehmeier said, "because both sexes like it, kids are exposed to it at a young age and we don't know how to treat [meth-users] correctly. Instead, they go through rehab after rehab after rehab."
To some, meth or "speed" may seem like an old story. Originally developed as a medicine for asthma and other ailments, methamphetamine was used by the Nazis in the 1940s to spur their lagging troops.
In the 1960s and 1970s, U.S. motorcycle gangs made batches of meth and sold it to hippies, college students and other "speed freaks."
Today's drug comes from "meth labs" run by professionals associated with Mexican-based traffickers or local "cooks," who use over-the-counter products and Internet recipes to make it in homes, cabins and caves.
Meth, which sometimes is called "poor man's cocaine," "crank," "ice," "stove top" or "Satan dust," causes a short "rush" when smoked, injected, snorted or swallowed. The "high" evolves into a euphoria that lasts eight to 24 hours, accompanied by high energy levels and little or no appetite.
When meth wears off, it leaves the user feeling depressed, fatigued and craving more of the drug.
Long-term use is associated with severe paranoia, aggression, confusion and insomnia. Its effects on the brain are "similar to damage caused by Alzheimer's disease, stroke and epilepsy," the Office of National Drug Control Policy says.
Meth users, including 8.8 million people in 2000, have been concentrated in Western and Southern rural areas. However, evidence shows the drug and its homegrown "meth labs" are moving northeast, into Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York.
Although most meth users are men the drug is particularly popular with interstate truckers, farmworkers and male homosexuals it also appeals to women.
Meth makes women lose weight and yet feel a lot of energy, said Patrick Fleming, director of the Division of Substance Abuse in the Utah Department of Human Services.
Women also get involved with meth if their boyfriends make and/or sell it because meth dealers typically have a lot of money and girlfriends have free access, he said.
The result in Utah is that mothers with children are more likely to use meth than alcohol or other drugs, said Mr. Fleming.
Last year, 937 mothers entered treatment for meth, compared with 686 mothers admitted for alcoholism, he said. The opposite was true for fathers: Alcohol was the No. 1 reason fathers sought treatment (1,316 admissions), while meth addiction was second (548 admissions).
While some people can use meth occasionally, many find its highs irresistible, with dire consequences for both adults and children in the home.
"People who are strung out on methamphetamine pick scabs and holes in their skin. They see bugs climbing on walls," said Mr. Fleming. "And because their nerves are becoming damaged, they don't have the ability to settle down and deal with a crying 2-year-old. So there's abuse and neglect . They'll leave [their children] in their room with dirty diapers, lock them up and walk away."
Meth houses are "the worst cases I've ever seen horrible neglect," said Lisa Jorgensen, who has attended more than 100 meth arrests in her eight years as a Utah child-protective services investigator.
Many meth houses are devoid of food because none of the adults has an appetite, she said. Other houses have rotting food left out since the last binge. "The kids just eat out of the pots," said Ms. Jorgensen.
Loaded guns, hard-core pornography, noxious fumes and caustic, flammable and poisonous chemicals lying around make meth homes extraordinarily dangerous.
"It's the scariest substance that we've ever dealt with in a society," said Ms. Jorgensen, who noted that many children test positive for meth by merely living in a drug house. "It's very frightening to watch a 5-year-old withdraw."
Meth-using mothers "all seem to have the delusion that they're not harming the children if 'they never see me cook it or use it' or 'if I use it only after they go to bed,'" said Mary O'Riley, executive director of Bernie Lorenz Recovery Inc., a halfway house for female substance abusers in Des Moines, Iowa.
But the women don't realize that when they are under the influence, they are emotionally and physically distant, said Miss O'Riley, adding that meth has been the primary drug of choice for her clientele for the past four years.
Recovery from meth is an especially slow process, treatment specialists say. It takes 90 days just for abnormal brain effects to subside, after which the addict struggles for years with impulsiveness, short attention spans, low tolerance for frustration and memory loss.
It's not uncommon for a meth-addicted woman to meet with her counselor and carefully plan her activities for the next 24 hours, but by the next day completely forget what has been said, said Miss O'Riley.
Crystal Meth Anonymous, a 12-step program for recovering addicts, has fellowships around the country and recently has started one in the Washington area. Meetings are growing fast, "which I believe speaks to the extent of the problem with crystal meth around the country," said Will H., a spokesman for the West Hollywood, Calif.-based group.

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