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Lurid True-Life Tales of Methamphetamine Addiction
A California mother receives a life sentence because her infant overdosed on methamphetamine suspected to have been transmitted through mom’s breast milk. Another California man, tweaked to the point of believing that aliens had entered his body, stabs his mom to death. Yet another Cali speed freak blows away his partners with a shotgun and tells authorities, "I can tell you that drug makes me the evilest person in the world." In the desert above LA, a meth-drenched couple slashes and beats their four-year-old daughter to death. Gakked on crystal, an Oklahoma pair murders an old couple using household appliances found on the victims' premises: scissors, a pipe, and a garden pitchfork. Blasted on meth and believing his teenaged son to be the Devil, an Arizona man stabs the boy to death, decapitates him, and tosses his cabeza along the roadside.
Good times. Warm feelin’s. Methamphetamine fun.
Driven by a 5000% profit margin based on its ease of manufacture, amphetamine use has exploded in the US over the past decade. "Used to be you had to be Owsley, Jr., to make drugs in your basement," says Raymond Joseph Carter, an Oklahoma City lawyer who defends clients in federal death-penalty cases, "but now you can be a toothless retarded redneck who goes and buys some matches, Sudafed, and Heet, and if you’ve got these little basic recipes, anybody can make it. It’s like eighth-grade chemistrythere’s nothing to it, and they make it in houses with little diaper-wearing urchins, and somebody lights a cigarette, and the whole place blows up. It’s just an all-around great drug. It’s awesome. "Percentage-wise," Carter says, "of the white clients I’ve had, I’d think about half of them that were facing capital murder charges were under the influence of methamphetamines when they committed their crimes."
He details the meth-induced downfall of one client, a "well-liked" shift manager at a high-tech company. The man started dabbling with crystal on weekends, but his habit soon escalated to daily use. He became a full-blown tweaker and skin-picker who lost his job and hooked up with a girl whose father was a speed dealer. When her dad fronted him a large volume of meth paste, he delivered it to an old friend in his hometown, expecting payment. After a few days without being paid, he grew tense. He went over to his friend’s home and confronted him while the man was cooking chicken in the kitchen. When his friend offered him some chicken, the man countered with, "Have you ever tasted fried blood before?" As his friend reached his hand to tell him to relax, Carter’s client interpreted this as a sign of aggression and blew a 9MM hole in the man’s jaw. Panicking, he ran through the living room, where he shot and murdered a boy sitting on the couch watching TV and eating a burrito. He proceeded outside, where he fired at two teenaged girls before joining his girlfriend in the getaway car. They led police on a high-speed chase that resulted in a flipped-over car and a death-penalty conviction.
"He’s religious now that he’s locked-up," Carter says. "When he was my client and I visited him quite a bit, we’d talk about meth and he kept saying, over and over again, ‘That stuff is the Devil. It’s the Devil.’ And I think he had about five teeth left in his head when I knew him from the ravages of it."
ASTRID, 29, IS A HEAVILY TATTOOED-AND-PIERCEDPortland fire dancer and computer clerk. She shot speed for years but hasn’t used since the mid-1990s. She details one skeevy meth horror story after the next: The time she was putting on makeup and realized her eyes were egg-yolk-yellow from Hep-A jaundice. The time she danced all night and walked through Portland before realizing a nail was jammed a half-inch through her foot. The time a friend injected so much crank in one shot that the whites of her eyes turned to beet-red and "she looked like a fucking crayon." The time another friend involuntarily shit in his pants and was so gakked-out that he didn’t realize poop was running down his legs until others started complaining about the smell. The meth addict who vainly tried to poke a syringe in his eyeball because his arm was abscessed from too many prior injections.
Chemicals used in meth’s production, and often found tainting the finished product, include brake fluid, Drano, lye, gasoline, dog worming tablets, rat poison, and lighter fluid. As the body attempts to eject these toxins, meth heads often scratch and pick at their skin trying to release the elusive poison. Astrid relates some ever-charming skin-picker stories: "I watched my friend chop up her face with fingernail clippers," she tells me. "She was a really pretty girl, only eighteen years old, and was sitting in the back of a car for three hours as we waited for our friend. She had really nice skin, and she sat and picked at her face with fingernail clippers, and her face was bleeding, and she’d take the clippers to spots where blood was dribbling down and she’d think that’s where her face was breaking out, so she’d start cutting there....[Another friend] once thought there was something wrong with his taste buds. He kept locking himself in the bathroom and chopping off his own taste buds with a pair of scissors."
One rarely hears stories of people settled down to a happy life of meth addiction. "I regret the fact that I’m dumber now," Astrid tells me. "It definitely kills brain cells and fries the memory. I hate knowing that I’m not as smart as I used to be. That’s a form of living death."
JODY, 32, STARTS TO FEEL "ELECTRIC VOLTS"in her brain whenever she stops using crystal meth for more than a day. She’s been a daily user for nine years [an ice smoker for the past three] and says that every time she tries to quit, her synapses will start misfiring and she’ll get dizzy, often to the brink of blacking out. That’s why, for now at least, she doesn’t stop. She fears getting seizures or worse.
"It’s a way of life now," the Portland native tells me as we discuss her meth addiction. "My memory is shot as a result of using for so long. Simple things like spelling and grammar escape me. Then there is the ever-present CRSCan’t Remember Shit. Old shit, but recent stuff, too. I've had people recall things that I have been present for that I have no recollection of."
"Crank makes people crazy," she says ruefully. "The ‘downward spiral’ is inevitable with most... I have always been able to maintain a job and an apartment, but most users can't. I have hundreds of regrets regarding my usephysically, emotionally, my self-image is trashed, social repercussions, alienating sober people and my family I wish I’d never done it."
About a month ago, I had asked Jody why she persisted with her habit when she knew it was killing her. She stoically speculated that there must be a self-destructive element within her and that maybe she should address her inner turmoil more constructively. Tonight I mention that conversation to her and ask her if she’s made any positive changes. "Can’t say as I recall talking about that with you," she laughs. "Case in point about the memory."
THOUGH METH WAS ONCE THOUGHT TO BE NON-ADDICTIVE, recent studies suggest that repeated use will ensnare the user more thoroughly than heroinwhile only fourteen percent of those who shoot smack for six months will become hooked, a staggering seventy-two percent of crank-snorters will develop an addiction over the same stretch of time. For those who smoke crystal, the addiction rate is a terrifying ninety-four percent. And the relapse rate is said to be higher than with any other intoxicant.
Meth is roughly as healthy for you as roach poison. Chronic use ravages the body with the ferocity of chemotherapy. The addict trades short-term vitality for malnutrition, hair loss, rotten teeth, irreversible organ damage, heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, convulsions, ulcers, foul body odor, blurred vision, skin welts, seizures, internal bleeding, and lifelong nervous exhaustion.
The cognitive wreckage is even scarier. Along with alcohol, methamphetamine is one of the few recreational intoxicants proven to cause permanent brain damage. Studies have shown that even mild meth use forever fries nerve endings on brain cells that produce dopamine and serotonin. One’s memory is forever blunted. Speech and thought patterns are crippled. Chronic use invariably results in paranoia, hallucinations, chronic fatigue, suicidal impulses, whiplash-inducing mood swings, and bursts of great-white-shark violencethe fabled "methamphetamine psychosis" from which victims never fully emerge.
"That drug wreaks more havoc than anything else, even crack, because crack users don’t get violent like that, and they don’t age like the tweakers do," says Portland police detective John Scruggs. "You’ll see these twenty-two-year-olds who look forty-seven. Saggy skin, grey hair, no teeth, and you look at their ID, and yes, it’s them."
"My uncle had these girlfriends," says Seantos, a long-haired Portland musician whose uncle used to deal speed, "these women whose bodies from behind look great and they turn around and it’s like, ‘Ugh.’ Speed Face is something awful. They turn around, and it’s like somebody just drove over their face for a while. ’Cause they get that Charlie Brown look where their eyes are just big circles."
Although Seantos admits to some heavy past recreational meth use, he avoided becoming addicted. "There’s some nastiness that goes on with it, man.... There are classic cases of guys cutting themselves open to get rid of rats that are inside them....I knew somebody who got tweaked-out about radios to the point where he thought radios were a two-way intercom system....He’d go into people’s houses and destroy their radios because he thought a spy network was going on....I’ve also seen people kebab one another. At a barbecue, these two guys got into an argument about whose life was the worst. One guy got all pissed off and took a kebab thing and just speared the other guy through the leg....
"Eventually with speed, people either stop doing it or they spin out of control," he says. "I think it makes people desperate, and desperation always leads to violence."
"EVEN WHEN I WAS A CHILD, I HARDLY EVER SLEPT,"says Jean- Luc, 49, who estimates he’s been hooked on one form of speed or another for ninety percent of his life. "I did Ritalin as a kid. It provides an effect like an industrial fan...like a million miles an hour, but if you look at it, it’s going slow...When they gave it to me, my mind and body clicked. This is where I wanted to be. My mind and body worked together" He eventually graduated from Ritalin to "white crosses" (Dexedrine tabs) and finally to the mountaintop, crystal meth. He snorts it exclusively"twenty blasts a day."
A bundle of possibly dangerous energy, Jean-Luc sits on my couch and fires off some quick jokes:
Q: How do you compliment a tweaker girl?
A: "Nice tooth, baby."
Q: What’s the favorite tweaker sexual position?
A: Doggie style, so they can both look out the window.
"I’ve known many people who’ve done many, many extreme things," Jean-Luc says of his tweaker cohorts, "things like talking to people who aren’t there, cleaning out tile grout, spending 19 hours cleaning cracks around a table, on and on like that. I hate the way tweakers will sit with 30,000 broken-down computers and they don’t have one working one, and it’s methamphetamine madness.... I call it crank psychosis, and most tweakers have multiple personalities."
Jean-Luc currently cops his speed from an abandoned Portland trailer park that is home to dozens of transient tweakers. "I know a lot of people who are just the scum of the earth, and the tweak will have them living in garbage," he says, shaking his head. "There’s tents there, shanties and shacks, and it’s going on 24 hours a day, and it’s like really weird, man. Their teeth are rotting out of their head, and they’ve been awake too long, and they’re living in shanties and thinking, ‘I’m really living the life, man.’ And I’ve never seen any other drug produce this effect. You can wonder how people can live like this, and they’re like, ‘Oh, I’m really doing good, man.’ And what’s really horrifying is that it isn’t the drugthe drug does not make decisionsit’s what people decide to do with the drug. They consciouslynot accidentallyuse it to destroy their own lives."
YET AMID ALL THE LIVING SKELETORS AND ROTTING CADAVERS, not all is bleak on the crystal-meth landscape. A friend of mine had a hundred-dollar-a-day habitonce staying up for three weeks without sleepand was able to walk away from crank with only minor headaches. He says his older brother’s meth addiction was even worse, relating stories of bro kicking out all the windows in his apartment because he didn’t answer the door promptly enough, of driving down residential streets at 90MPH blowing his shotgun out the window, and of suffering permanent facial scarring when some meth that was cooking bubbled over and splattered on his face.
His brother once lived with a girlfriend in a meth house that was so decrepit, a turkey in the refrigerator crawled with so many maggots, it appeared to be moving. But one day, in thunderously dramatic fashion, they left the meth houseand the methbehind forever.
"So one day my brother and his girlfriend are in this store," he tells me, "and they look at each other and say, ‘We need to quit. We have to get out of this." And they didn’t even go home and get their stuff. They shoplifted a pair of backpacks from the store, filled them with stolen groceries, and walked right out of the store. They just started walking. And they kept walking for two whole fucking years...sleeping in ditches, in water puddles, walking through the desert, through the South, thousands and thousands of miles...until they decided they were finally free of the dope and started to walk home."