“I was on the verge of losing everything — my family, my job, everything that was important to me— all because I made the decision to ‘just try’ smoking meth one time.”
That one decision led Terri down the darkest road she said she has ever traveled — one filled with drugs, deception, depression and despair. The Franklin County resident is being identified only by her first name.
“I fell into a deep depression,” she said. “I wasn’t even the same person anymore. It had messed with my mind and turned me into someone I didn’t recognize. When I wasn’t at work, I was in bed. I withdrew from everything. It was a dark time, but it wasn’t nearly as dark as when I was actually still using. I really was a completely different person then.”
Terri’s story of the severe consequences of meth use is similar to others who are addicted to the drug with seemingly no way out of the downward spiral.
But how did Terri and others like her get to that point? Billboards feature the “faces of meth” depicting the negative physical effects the drug can have. TV ads spout statistics and facts about the dangers of meth. Local law enforcement agencies dispense information about the drug’s addictive nature. Pamphlets run down the list of chemicals involved in the manufacture of meth — the list of negatives stretches a mile long.
With all this information flooding media and awareness programs, why are there still people who choose to use this drug that has quickly become one of the most abused substances, especially in rural areas? There are no obvious answers.
“People usually assume that someone on meth has probably had a drug problem all their life, or they’ve been in a lot of trouble, and sometimes that’s true, but that isn’t always the case,” Terri said. “I had never done anything like that before in my life before my first time. I was a wife, a mother, a grandmother and I had a good job. People would have never thought I’d do something like that.
“But a co-worker asked me one day if I wanted to try it. She said it would make me feel good. I thought it couldn’t hurt to ‘just try it once,’ but I’ll tell you right now, I’ll promise you, I was addicted after that very first time.”
Strict laws having effect on meth labs
Franklin County Community Corrections officer Sheryl Plott said the warning that a first-time use leads to instant addiction is no myth.
“When you take meth, it releases a large amount of dopamine, which makes a person feel great and can have them hooked after the first use,” Plott said. “But methamphetamine attacks your dopamine receptors and can eventually destroy them until they’re almost impossible to repair. This can alter people’s moods and personalities and cause them to be severely depressed, so they keep using the drug to continue to feel good.”
The high the drug gives its users is hard to describe, Terri said.
“It makes you feel good physically and mentally,” she said. “It’s a very intense feeling that I can’t really put into words because I’d never felt anything else like it. You don’t worry about anything or feel like you have any problems. And it feels great at the time. That’s why so many people get on it and stay on it. That’s why so many people do it.”
Once meth use came to Alabama, studies show, it increased at a rapid rate. According to the El Paso Intelligence Center’s National Seizure System, the number of meth lab seizure incidents in Alabama increased from 204 incidents in 2007 to 610 incidents in 2009, which is an increase of 199 percent.
But since the Alabama Legislature passed several laws in 2012 aimed at combating the serious meth-use problem, reports have shown a steady decline in the reported number of meth labs found in Alabama. According to a report by the Alabama Drug Task Force, meth lab seizures in the state dropped from 720 in 2010 to 154 in 2013 — a 78 percent difference.
“The laws that were passed several years ago, like the anti-smurfing and precursor laws, they’ve really helped us be able to crack down not just on the users themselves, but it helps us crack down on the ones who are attempting to manufacture the drug,” Franklin County Sheriff Shannon Oliver said. “The pseudoephedrine laws limiting the amounts you can buy, and recording when people buy this medication, have definitely helped.”
Smurfing is when a meth manufacturer tries to avoid buying large quantities of pseudoephedrine personally by hiring others to each buy smaller amounts.
Oliver said anti-smurfing laws help authorities “catch the people who are trying to beat the system. … Being able to catch people in the early stages of making meth has helped us tremendously.”
The National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators (NADDI) reported 44,953 blocked sales of pseudoephedrine in the first seven months of 2014, which equaled 110,896 grams of pseudoephedrine that were blocked from being sold.
According to National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) data, in Franklin County in 2013, 436 boxes of PSE sales were blocked. This kept over 1,300 grams of PSE from potentially being used in meth production in Franklin County.
“The Franklin County Drug Unit has also been a big help since it was established,” Oliver said. “We now have officers who are solely dedicated to investigating drug cases from start to finish. They can follow up on community tips and take the time to investigate these cases fully.”
But though the meth trend seems to be declining, Oliver said the problem is still prevalent, especially in rural places like Franklin County.
“In my opinion, if there’s any meth use going on at all it’s a problem, but meth use is still pretty high around here,” he said. “I would say that arrests related to meth and prescription medication are what we see the most of. And a lot of our burglary, theft and even assault arrests stem from drug issues, too.”
Rural areas hit hard
In a report released by the Council of State Governments, the prevalence of meth use in rural areas was attributed to a tendency to have understaffed law enforcement agencies because of a lack of funding, easy access to ingredients and plenty of open spaces that would make production harder to detect.
“Being a rural county makes it somewhat easier to manufacture meth, and that knowledge will sometimes lead people to think they’re not going to get caught, which leads to even more meth labs and meth use than you would probably find in a more populated area,” Oliver said. “There aren’t as many neighbors close by who could see what’s going on and report it to authorities. Also, the ingredients needed to make meth are fairly cheap, which is appealing to people in a more rural community where average incomes are probably not as high as they would be in a big city. It’s more economical in that respect.”
So how do law enforcement agencies, especially rural agencies, go about combating the meth problem?
“You keep following up on community tips and you keep investigating suspicious behavior and you keep sending the message that drug use won’t be tolerated,” Oliver said. “It may seem like we’re fighting a losing battle at times, but every arrest, every time we get these drugs off the streets, it’s progress.
“I also think education is important — getting the message out there about the dangers, the hazards and the potential that meth has to completely destroy your life and the lives of those you love.”
Terri, who holds a steady job and regularly speaks to AA members about how she overcame her meth addiction and still fights to overcome it every day, said she also believes education about the drug is important to combating it.
“I honestly didn’t know much about meth when I tried it that first time,” she said. “But I’m trying to make sure people know the dangers and know how addicting it is up front because it’s better to not ever start.
“But if someone has already started and is stuck right in the middle of it, I want them to know there is a way out. You just have to make the decision that you’re not going to let it ruin your life and the ones of those you love. And then you have to fight, every single day, to keep that commitment and continue to remain clean.
“The drug is powerful and it will take over your life in a second, but you can get help and come out on the other side, I promise.”