BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — For Michelle Cullins and David Romero, methamphetamine was all they ever wanted, and it took all they ever had.
“It robs you of everything and it robbed me of my self respect,” said Cullins.
Yet that was not enough to stop them.
“Methamphetamine is my drug of choice,” said Cullins.
“What we know is, outside of marijuana, (methamphetamine) is the most popular drug of choice in Kern County,” said Dixie King of the Stop Meth Now Task Force.
King leads the Stop Meth Now Task Force, which conducted a year-and-a-half-long study on the county’s impact from methamphetamine use.
One survey found 1 in 3 people visiting Kern Medical Center’s emergency room have used meth at some point.
“Methamphetamine is the No. 1 narcotic that we see on the street when we’re doing enforcement,” said Sgt. Laura Lopez of the Sheriff’s Office’s Methamphetamine Enforcement Unit.
“I could probably go down to a liquor store here pick a random person, tell them I’m looking for some and probably get it or get pointed in the right direction,” said Romero.
The study found children are offered meth for the first time when they’re as young as 9 years old.
“I started using meth when I was 14 years old. I used it with a family member who was six years older than me. Naturally, I’m going to do what the older crowd is doing, and I loved it,” said Cullins.
Cullins says meth’s appeal is in the euphoria, weight loss and energy.
“It’s just very powerful. You have all this energy, and I liked it because I like to clean and I can really do things and I can multitask, and I could do it really fast,” said Cullins.
“Workers in the oil fields, people in construction, people in farm labor are all areas where you see a lot of methamphetamine use because people are exhausted and it’s one of the things that gives them a lot of energy,” said King.
But all that comes at a cost to them and the community.
“We go to desperate measures (to obtain the meth),” said Cullins.
Desperate measures like prostitution, petty theft and burglary. The Sheriff’s Office says 90 percent of thefts are drug related.
“They’ll steal items like baby formula; stuff that could be turned into cash quickly and traded for methamphetamine,” said Deputy District Attorney Bud Starr.
“I clearly remember digging in my mom’s shoes to find her money stash,” said Romero.
Marie Watts says her meth-addicted daughter broke into her storage unit and stole more than $20,000 worth of valuable collectibles, presumably to sell or trade for meth.
“I can’t even comprehend how she could do that to her family, her parents. It hurts (our feelings) so bad,” said Watts.
Not only does meth impair the brain’s critical judgement, but it also causes violent behavior.
“I can easily see (users) killing you or hurting you. If they have a weapon, they’ll most likely use it,” said Romero.
David Webster is accused of stabbing 84-year-old Mary Lou Licastro to death while burglarizing her home last month.
Police said they caught him with a methamphetamine pipe while ransacking another home down the street shortly after.
Other desperate measures meth users will go to include auto thefts, identity theft and bounced checks.
The District Attorneys Office says 70 percent of Public Defender’s Office cases involve meth.
“Also, there are people on the street driving cars while under the influence of meth and can’t drive well because of that, and that affects all of us,” said Starr.
“Nobody is untouched by methamphetamine. We may think we are, but all of us are impacted by the use of methamphetamine in this community,” said King.
Child Protective Services says drug abuse and child neglect go hand-in-hand.
“Many of the households are unkept. They’re infested with rodents, insects. Dog and cat feces are regularly found in children’s room. The living conditions they’re in are inhumane,” said Lopez.
Cullins says if her days weren’t spent being high, they were spent sleeping to recover.
“Coming-to after being up for so long, I found my 4-year-old child attempting to make cup-o-noodle for his 2-year-old brother because I had been up for so long, I had to finally come down,” said Cullins.
Not only is there neglect, but sometimes child abuse.
Last month, Danielle Mailloux was convicted of stabbing her newborn baby 21 times.
Her attorney says she was in a methamphetamine-induced psychosis triggered by postpartum depression.
“We don’t care about who we’re hurting or even think about who we’re hurting,” said Cullins.
Meth doesn’t discriminate. Meth users come from all races and social classes, even law enforcement.
In December, Bakersfield police officer Ofelio Lopez was arrested at work for being high on methamphetamine and for stealing meth from a crime scene.
Meth comes at a cost to your safety and your wallet, with tax money being used to catch, prosecute, incarcerate and treat meth users, while providing social services for their children.
“It probably is easy to say [that] in Kern County we spend millions of dollars a year because of methamphetamine,” said Starr.
Among other drugs, one thing does make meth unique.
“Cocaine addicts will say ‘Alright, I need to stop.’ Alcoholics say, ‘I have hit bottom.’ But meth addicts do not realize that. Instead, they’re forced into treatment by the criminal justice system or they’re losing custody of their children,” said King.
“There’s a dedication to the use of methamphetamine that is frightening,” said Starr.