Editor's note: The name of the former methamphetamine user in this article has been changed to protect his identity.



He'd only planned to do it once. But once just wasn't enough.

So he did it again ... and again, until it was old habit.

"A good friend introduced me to it," said Gavin Everett, who, at 24, tried methamphetamine for the first time.

"He told me to just try a little of it; he said it wouldn't hurt," said Everett, now 37. "Over the years, a little led to a lot."

A lot of being awake for days, sometimes a week or more. A lot of attempts at attaining, but never quite reaching that first-time high. And after more than a decade of using, a lot of avoiding being caught selling the drug to supplement his own habit.

Eventually, the drug that he was told would not hurt him did just that. Law enforcement caught Everett selling. Fortunately, the charges were dropped to possession and he entered a four-phase drug court program.

"I'm in my last year and I've been clean for four years," he said with pride. "I thought I would just breeze through it, but you discover that it's not quite that easy."



Old drug, new twist



Crystal, crank, white cross, Barney Dope, crunk, hillbilly crack, ice, crystal meth, go, chris, meth monster, speed ball, Smurf dope, tweak, white ink, ugly dust, zip, zoom ...

Whatever you call it, methamphetamine is a highly addictive drug and the most potent form of amphetamine available with or without a prescription. In existence for decades, methamphetamine or crystal meth experienced a revival on the black market in the early 2000s as a replacement for cocaine or mixed with heroin.

"That's when we started to see it comeback, a strong comeback in Mississippi," said Lt. Eddie Hawkins, methamphetamine field coordinator for the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics.

"Since 2000-2001, we've really had a lot of arrests made on methamphetamine abuse."

Methamphetamine is a powerful central nervous system stimulant that affects dopamine, one the essential neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood. Manmade, the key ingredient of methamphetamine is ephedrine, a controlled substance. Because it is difficult to obtain ephedrine, drug dealers use pseudoephedrine, found in many over-the-counter medicines.

Ingredients used to manufacture the product – known as precursors – vary, depending on the production method. Everyday household chemicals found at any convenience or hardware store, grocery or shopping center, may be used. Some of the most commonly used include ether (which is found in starter fluid), lantern fuel, denatured alcohol, sodium hydroxide (lye), ammonia nitrate (fertilizer), battery acid, drain cleaner and antifreeze.

"The precursors are what we arrest or charge individuals with when they are out buying these ingredients, with the intent on manufacturing a controlled substance," Hawkins said.

Once the drug is manufactured, it can be ingested in one of four ways. It can be smoked, snorted, injected or eaten orally (a small amount of the drug is wadded in paper, then swallowed).

Truck drivers – who are among the drugs most popular users – often soak their toothpicks in liquid methamphetamine, which gives them a mild dose as they chew on it while driving down the road.

"A lot of truck drivers use it because it keeps them up longer, where they can drive longer," said Everett, a former truck driver.

"I've known people on meth to stay up for up to two weeks," he said. "I was only good for three to four days and then my body would start to shut down."

Because meth users tend to have more energy or are awake for long periods of time, they sometimes give themselves away to law enforcement.

"When we ride by a house at 3 in the morning and someone is outside mowing the grass, they possibly are on meth," Hawkins said.

But that long-lasting effect is a major attraction to meth when compared to other drugs, such as marijuana or crack cocaine.

"A crack cocaine user will be out on the corner buying a $20 rock, then 5 minutes later he's out there buying another $20 rock because the high from crack cocaine only lasts from 8 to 10 minutes," Hawkins said. "So the user is out there constantly buying more and more crack until he runs out of money."

On the flip side with meth, the user can take a $20 dose and that amount will keep him up for four to 24 hours.

"And as the user starts to come down off the drug, all he has to do is take another hit of the drug and he's up another four to 24 hours," Hawkins said. "So economically, if you're a meth user, you get high longer and it's a much more intense high than crack cocaine, cocaine or marijuana. So it's more attractive to the user."

But, methamphetamine is highly addictive.

"When someone tries meth for the first time, they can become addicted – it's that strong and that powerful," Hawkins said. "Statistics vary but according to one report, there is a 4- to 6 percent recovery rate. In other words, four to six people out of 100 who try the drug for the first time become addictive and they can actually walk away from the drug."

And while meth is no respecter of age or economical or social status, it does tend to be used more by whites than African-Americans. But Hawkins notes a new trend.

"In the past, the black communities that were dealing crack cocaine were where whites bought from. Now the white users have changed their drug of choice to methamphetamie. So now the suppliers in those black communities that deal drug are starting to sell meth – they still don't use it, but they are dealing it," he said.



Long-term effects



Methamphetamine causes false feelings of well-being. More and more confidence is placed in the drug while other survival feelings are ignored and bypassed. The result is a lack of concern for, and confidence in, other areas of life.

The long-term heavy use of methamphetamine may lead to malnutrition, tooth decay, skin disorders, ulcers and diseases resulting from deficiencies. Body sores are a very noticeable physical effect.

"Some users have a chemical smell because of the chemicals used in the manufacturing process. The body acts like a filter and filters the bad out through the pores of the skin," Hawkins said.

"The skin starts to dry out and becomes itchy and the user starts to hallucinate and thinks he has something crawling under his skin – what is commonly called meth bugs. Because he thinks something crawling on him, he starts picking at his skin. That's where the sores come from," he said.

Another common physical affect is nervousness or twitches.

"They just can't control their body and jump or twitch or not," he said.

Regular use may contribute to lack of sleep and weight loss. Intravenous users are at risk for serious, life-threatening diseases such as AIDS, lung and heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases.

Some users may experience "Superman Syndrome," in which they attempt to perform tasks they are incapable of performing or take unnecessary risks. Other long-term meth effects include: hallucinations, disorganized lifestyle, violent and aggressive behavior, permanent psychological problems, behavior resembling paranoid schizophrenia, poor coping abilities, disturbance of personality development, lowered resistance to illnesses and possible brain damage.

"This is such a powerful drug," Hawkins said. "When people first start to use it, they feel better than they ever have before so they get addicted. But after a period of time, the body builds up a tolerance. Once you build a tolerance to it, you have to have the drug just to feel normal because it's tearing your body down. It's probably the worst thing we've seen yet as far as drug use."



Cleaning up



Although meth use continues, Mississippi lawmakers and drug agencies have taken steps to decrease and alleviate the problem. The greatest impact and success in achieving this goal has resulted from House Bill 607, which was passed in July 2005.

"What that does is limit the amount of ephedrine – which is found in many cold and sinus medications – that may be legally purchased over-the-counter," Hawkins said.

As a result, the number of methamphetamine labs have decreased.

"Since the time the bill has been enacted, we've had a 75 percent decrease in our methamphetamine production or labs," Hawkins said. "These are not the big, major super labs, but the "Mom-and-Pop" labs that people are producing this drug to support their own habits."

Local agents are also seeing results.

"Since the passage of the new law restricting the number of products needed to make methamphetamine, we've seen a significant decrease in labs and our call volume intel (reports of meth labs from the public," said Agent Joe White of the East Mississippi Drug Task Force.



A success story



Although he didn't think so when it happened, Everett said getting caught selling meth was the best thing that could have happened to him.

"Unlike some people, I didn't lose everything. I paid my bills on time and any spare money went toward buying meth," he said. "So I probably would still be using it if I hadn't got caught."

Everett's charge was lessened to possession and he was required to enter the Eighth Judicial District Adult Drug Court Program. The four-phase program includeds: Phase I – 30 days of rehab and the start of paying fines and fees; Phase II, completion of paying fines and fees; Phase III, entered after fees are paid, participation in after-care program and clean for one year; Phase IV, a one-year process of continued non-drug activity.

Everett is currently in Phase III of the program.

"When I finish Phase IV, my record will be expunged and, more importantly, I will be free of this," he said.

Everett said he has not had any visible physical effects from the drug, but he does have health problems which he attributes to his meth use.

"I have problems with high blood pressure and my cholesterol is up," he said. "I used to be really athletic, but now I can't do a lot of the things I used to. I lost a few back teeth, but I didn't have sores and some of the other things people have from using meth, so I've been blessed."

Hawkins said while it is not impossible to overcome methamphetamine use, the recovery process is not easy.

"I think people give up too quickly; it takes a long time for your body to get used to not having something so addictive," he said. "It's at least an 18 to 20-month recovery process, if not longer."

In addition to the Drug Court Program, Everett attributes his success in overcoming his addiction to two things: his faith and his 4-year-old son.

"I go to church twice a week, I've been saved and Baptized – I've completely turned my life around," he said. "But my son has been my biggest reason for staying clean. He means more to me than any drug."



Physical signs of meth use



Euphoric "high" state (excessively happy)

Paranoia

Decreased appetite/weight loss

Increased physical activity

Anxiety, shaking hands, nervousness

Incessant talking

Increased temperature (can rise as high as 108 degrees and cause death)

Convulsions at high doses

Chest pain, elevated blood pressure

Dilated pupils

Dry or itchy skin

Acne

Sweating not related to physical activity

Irritable and moody (mood swings)

Picking at skin or hair

Aggressive or violent behavior

Depression (withdrawal/tolerance effect)



– From Adolescent Substance Abuse Knowledge Base





FORUM



What: MethWatch Community Forum

When: Friday, from 8:30 a.m.-noon (Sign in: from 8 a.m.-8:30 a.m.)

Where: Kahlmus Auditorium, MSU-Meridian, 1000 Hwy. 19 North

Speakers:

• Lt. Eddie Hawkins, Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics

• Former methamphetamine addict

Topics include:

• Current trends of Methamphetamine abuse in Mississippi

• Awareness of how methamphetamine is used

• Signs and symptoms of meth addiction

• Signs of manufacture of meth (meth labs); different locations for labs; dangers of labs

• Dangers to children and drug endangered children laws

• Community responsiblity (MethWatch)

• Mississippi's Meth Law; regulations on sale of precursor ingredients, reporting requirements, etc.

Target Audience:

• Retailers (especially those who sell meth “precursor” ingredients)

• Law enforcement officials

• Apartment managers/property managers

• Real estate staff

• Motel managers

• Commercial trucking line personnel (safety manager, HR, etc.)

• Anyone who makes home visits (social/case workers, inspectors, utility installers/meter readers, repair technicians)

• Social service and health professionals

• Treatment professionals

• Child care workers

• Teachers, counselors

• Students (college, graduate) in related fields

Cost: Free, but pre-registration is required

Other: Certificate of attendance for 3.0 contact hours provided upon request.

0.l7 SWUs through MSU Meridian

Register: Call April Mosley, prevention education coordinator, Weems Community Mental Health Center, (601)483-4821 Or email asmosley@weemsmh.com

Register by Tuesday

• Community forum sponsored by Weems Community Mental Health Center and MSU-Meridian Wellness Therapy Institute. This forum is funded in part by a grant from the Mississippi Dept. of Mental Health. Exhibitors include Weems LifeCare, DREAM, Inc., Alliance Health Center, Pine Grove Behavioral Health Outreach, East Mississippi State Hospital, MSU Meridian, Wellness Therapy Institute.

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