At our drug summit several weeks ago, we discussed the problem and, the citizens of Dunn County expressed both their shock and desire for some sort of education campaign on the subject of methamphetamine.
By Pat Merriman
Dunn Co. State’s Attorney
And, frankly, time permitting, I think a second town hall meeting is in order on this very topic because the emails have come pouring in offering to help. However, what I would like to do, initially, is explain the methamphetamine addiction cycle, how to spot it and what to do about it if you are a loved one. Time may be wasting for you or your loved one.
First, this week, spotting the signs that a loved one is abusing this terrible drug. Second, next week (and 2 more thereafter), the impact that drug abuse has on families/friends, how they can actually be both enabling the addict and risking others by this obstreperous behavior and, how to play to win with your kids to keep them clean and sober. Third, the problem of no local treatment facility and why we have to press Bismarck for one—PERIOD! And, finally, the role of law enforcement in this process. I’ll warn, in advance, that I’m not going to pull any punches in this discussion because, frankly, it’s time to honestly discuss the preview of coming attractions and, in particular, when discussing the role of the law enforcement (including the States Attorney), addicts and their enablers are NOT going to like what I have to say. By the time law enforcement gets involved, it is going to take some harsh measures to fight this demon and, the time for talking is over.
Public involvement in this epidemic is critical. If the public is going to tolerate drug abuse as merely a health issue and the mentality that ‘ol Joe is just sick and can’t help it; or, adopt the ostrich mentality that it doesn’t exist at all or is overblown; we are doomed. And, believe me nothing polarizes a community faster than meth, cocaine or heroin. Most folks talk tough on drug enforcement until their loved one gets arrested and prosecuted. But, at the outset, remember…drug abuse happens in good families the most now and, that’s why it’s so nefarious. The lure of being “cool” or “hip” or “I’m just a recreational user and I’ve got it under control” or, “I have a disease that I can’t control” is the Siren’s Song of the junkie. As long as the user has this attitude, he/she will never recover and the sad truth is that they are going to die, years before their time, after they have dragged their loved ones, including their parents, spouse, children, siblings and friends, literally, through Hell. I have far too much first-hand experience with this problem and, I’m not going to argue with the uninformed. It ain’t just about the junkie… it’s about their family and friends too! And, don’t they deserve a drug-free life?
And, that’s why the entire community has a vested interest in stopping the cycle of addiction. Methamphetamine, heroin…whatever. It puts EVERYONE these users come into contact with in real, physical danger. Home invasions, murders, robberies and assaults just to name a few. Read our newspapers! So, as a parent or loved one, how can you identify this problem? Second, methamphetamine a uniquely American phenomenon, is one of the most addictive and destructive drugs you can ingest. It originated in Japan (circa 1919) as a way to keep combat troops alert, but, it soon showed its true colors. Meth addiction can occur in as little as a couple of ingestions. It’s cheap to make and second only to marijuana as a regularly abused drug. First-time users experiment with the substance as a “party drug”, a way to increase sexual stamina, or stay awake, sometimes, for several days. Unfortunately, meth is toxic to humans and, prolonged use causes permanent damage to the brain including adverse changes to the organ itself as well as the way it works. It actually begins to shrink, lose gray matter and there is profound change in personality similar to schizophrenia.
Third, what does meth look like? Usually it is a dirty white to light brown crystalline powder. In other words, it sort of looks like the preservative Fruit Fresh with “chunks” (crystals) that resemble broken pieces of ice or shards of glass. But, be forewarned, methamphetamine can be snorted, swallowed, smoked or injected, so, it can also take on other “powderlike” forms or be a liquid that looks like water. So, at the outset, you need to know that meth PARAPHERNALIA can be small Ziplock baggies (like a person uses to sell jewelry), glass vials, light bulbs, tin foil, glass tubes, short straws, soda cans with holes in the side, syringes and ball point pen barrels. Literally anything can be methamphetamine paraphernalia because of the drug’s ability to be so easily ingested. The devices will either have burn marks and/or powder residue on them indicating past use. Since most users don’t keep a large stash (like marijuana) laying around, it is the paraphernalia that usually confirms your fear.
Fourth, look for sudden, unusual behavior in your loved one. Meth abusers can’t sleep for long periods, lose their appetite, drop weight fast, appear hyperactive and “tweak” (twitch nervously and act anxious). Meth is a stimulant, so, the body is revving like a car engine which is getting ready to blow. And, believe me, the crash is coming. This “high” can last as long as 10 hours and the addict is extremely unstable (read that as dangerous), particularly, when he/she is craving their next fix. Meth is dehydrating the user too. They shrivel before your eyes. Hair/weight loss, gray/brown teeth and premature aging. Your loved one will literally age 10 years in front of your very eyes. Users often get overheated, sweat when it is not hot, particularly, after any physical exertion at all. Pupils dilate, blood pressure increases and the strain on the addict’s heart, adrenals and other organs is tremendous as the body tries to purge itself of the poison.
Fifth, there is an entire industry out there to help the addict stay addicted including synthetic urine and other drugs to try to defraud drug testing which are sold on the Internet. So, don’t buy it when your loved one tells you they “passed” a drug test—their most common lie. Essentially, there are 5 types of drug testing: (1) urine, the most common— avg. detection time=3-5 days; (2) hair (the hardest to defraud), hence, why most addicts start keeping their hair closs-cropped—if there is hair on the addict’s head that was there the last time he/she used, it’s contaminated—avg. detection time= 90-120 days; (3) saliva (immediately detects usage) is virtually impossible to beat but, is short in duration—avg. detection time=5 mins.-12 hrs.; (4) blood (very accurate) but is rarely used because of the body’s ability to quickly metabolize the drug, avg. detection time=12-24 hours; and (5) sweat—the drug patch we use in the 24/7 program which monitors the addict constantly. Each addict’s body chemistry and metabolism is different, so, only FREQUENT, continuous drug testing has any real meaning. Don’t buy the lie that the addict is clean because they tested clean. Just because they say it, don’t make it true!
Sixth, the good Lord help you, but, if a loved one sinks to the level of making the drug, its precursors are harsh, dangerous, caustic chemicals like ammonium nitrate, lithium batteries, ether (starter fluid), drain cleaner and other household chemicals too. A hazard to anyone else in close proximity Another precursor is ephedrine or pseudo-ephedrine the allergy medications. Heavy users of meth will experience hallucinations and delusions including bugs crawling on/under their skin, sores which erupt on their face/body as they keep picking at their skin. The caustic substance will stop the flow of saliva and, again, the abuser’s teeth may, very rapidly, get rotten and brown– “meth mouth.” Abusers will begin to engage in dangerous, risky lifestyles and sexual encounters. And, make no mistake, a meth addict’s only goal is getting the drug! They will not take care of their hygiene, home, children or work.
Finally, newborns risk genetic defects when a pregnant mother uses meth. The drug is absorbed into the bloodstream, passes through the placenta to the fetus and is secreted into the breast milk. According to recent studies, infants born to “meth moms” develop physical deformities, malformation, malnutrition, depression, brain damage, eye damage, behavioral disorders and are more at risk of becoming addicts themselves. You will, ultimately, see unfed, dirty toddlers, animal feces laying in the addict’s house, used diapers all over, drug paraphernalia and drugs even within reach of these poor little kids. And, after a meth binge, the abuser will “crash” and will not be able to control their fatigue, literally, falling asleep for hours and not being able to wake up aka “the Sleep of the Dead”. Then, the cycle begins anew when they do, finally, wake up.
Now, the haters are going to say, “Merriman, you’re just using scare tactics.” I wish, based on personal experience with loved ones (two of whom died) that I was exaggerating. But, at the end of the day, the words I’ve written come straight from the heart and, not only 35 years of experience but, can be found, almost verbatim, at Narconon, the substance abuse experts at their website: www.narconon.org/drug-abuse/signs-symptoms-meth-use.html. Next week, we start with the loved ones of the meth addict and their role in this crisis. If you suspect that methamphetamine has come to a loved one, no matter how old they are, please call the Dunn County Sheriff’s Office, Killdeer PD or my office and we are standing by to help you BEFORE this becomes a criminal matter. God, bless!