Meth addiction: A widespread problem in search of solutions
Robert Reed, 20, lost everything but says he gained more in return after growing up fast with methamphetamine, a highly addictive, dangerous drug that’s plagued the West Coast and has moved east.
A teenage meth user for three years, Reed lost all material goods, 45 pounds, relationships with family members, one year of school as a junior at South Tahoe High School, his freedom and security. He faced prison time. His life was threatened when he got into dealing.
“I’d smoke all day. I became my own best customer. But then, I got into trouble because I owed money. These guys came by my house with guns. They told my mom she’d find her son in the gutter,” he said.
It was a high stakes game. His habit cost him $300 a day at one point, and he relied on side jobs to buy the drug. Reed found it difficult to turn to his mother because she moved to the Bay Area to escape her own meth and alcohol problem. One could argue they grew up together. After a hard road, both can claim recovery today – his over 14 months, hers over two years.
Meth affects 11.7 million Americans over age 12, according to the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy. Nationwide, 7.6 percent of high school students surveyed in 2003 admitted to using the drug. Reed is among them. With youth being a growing demographic, El Dorado County wants to reach them and others in its first meth workshop beginning today.
It took the reality of prison time to convince Reed to find a new life. He was arrested at age 18 but went into drug treatment and stayed in Sierra Recovery Center’s transitional housing. He maintains a steady relationship and enjoys the beauty of Tahoe.
“When I used meth, it made me feel like I could accomplish anything. I never had a childhood. If I did, I don’t remember it,” Reed said, while he sat quietly Monday. He appeared centered, focused and spiritual as he recounted overcoming a painful experience as a victim of child abuse. “I tried to numb my feelings.”
Now he shares them openly.
County Health Educator Chuck Newport, a conference organizer, said many meth cases involve abuse.
“For most people, they try to get away from the pain,” he said.
Newport said the consequences are steep for meth users. For a 20-minute to 12-hour high, they’ll deal and steal, lose their teeth, cause permanent brain damage and give up everything.
“That’s because everything pales in comparison (to the high),” he said.
The common physical and psychological effects are widespread, ranging from fatal kidney and lung disorders to stroke and insomnia. Reed would stay up for two weeks without sleep.
Law enforcement has seen the late-night impact of the drug-induced sleep deprived.
“We’ve tied the drug to some automobile accidents and theft. They don’t sleep and need something to do,” said city Police Chief Don Muren, who in his history as an officer got a full-on view of the problem working out of the Escondido area.
Another problem area is Carson Valley, where Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini, who mans three task forces to combat the issue, attributes 90 percent of inmate time to drug use in the valley. In an 18-month period, 50 people have specifically been arrested for meth trafficking and possession. Much comes from Mexico, he added.
“And it’s gotten more potent,” he said.
— Meth Ed: Methamphetamine in El Dorado County
Tonight at 6:30 at Lake Tahoe Community College (in English)
Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Al Tahoe School Cafeteria (in Spanish)
— Meth Street Names: BATU, New School, Crank, Ice, Speed, Chalk, Meth, Go-Fast, Shabu-Shabu, Go, Zip, Chris, Christy, Hot Ice, Super Ice, Crystal and Crystal Meth
— Reed meth use:
$300 a day habit over a 3-year period
Faced jail time; lost relationships, all material possessions; life was threatened
In recovery for 14 months