September 12, 2006

Sept. 12, 2006: #1 Bud Talkinghorn - Meth

Meth: It rhymes nicely with death

There are many drugs which can take you down the road to hell, but methamphetamine use gets you you there faster with your body in worse shape at the final destination. A very old Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines amphetamine as "a a drug used in medicine for nose ailments or head colds". Actually, after that it became mother's little diet helper. However, it was also employed during WW11 to keep soldiers alert during intensive combat. The Germans developed that one and the Germans and the allies made extensive use of it. The Japanese invented methamphetamine in 1919. While chemically similar to amphetamine, it is cheaper to make and far more powerful. By the 1990s it was being made by North American "cooks" in such unlikely places as the home kitchen, the family van, or even, in one case, on the side of the Oklahoma inter-state highway. Almost as unlikely, mainly it stalked the small towns and cities of the corn belt first. It was to the rural heartland what crack was to the urban ghettoes. The devastation it brought was beyond the control of the local police and social services. Whole families became addicted, with even their children showing residues of the drug. Police would only raid meth labs if they had on hazmat suits and the place was uninhabited. This was because a stray bullet in a shoot-out with crazed, paranoid users could blow the place up. If the house had been used extensively to cook up "crank", it had to be condemned and torn down.

I knew much of this before I read the book, "Meth--The Home-cooked Menace". The author, Dirk Johnson, is a five-time winner of the NY Publisher's Award for jounalism. Johnson takes you deeper into the belly of the beast. He opens with the description of a couple of formerlly high-achieving youngsters, who were too strung out on meth to tell 911 dispatchers where they were located. Their car had slid off the road. The boy kept insisting that he and his girlfriend were in their Omaha apartment, when they were really far out in the countryside. It was winter and they were freezing to death. When help got the boy's girlfriend on the cellphone, she was even more blitzed than her boyfriend. She bizarrely reported hundreds of Mexicans and Africans dressed up in cult outfits who were dismantling automobiles and carrying the parts up trees. They maintained that their wrecked car was upside down and out of gas. The boy was found next day frozen to death, while the girl wasn't found for six days. Their car was found rightside up and half full of gas. They were both only 20 years old.

The users get the slang name "tweakers", due to their ceaseless movements. One cop was quoted as saying they are the easiest drug addicts to spot. Besides doing the herky-jerk while being simply advised about a broken taillight, their eyes are so dilated they look like saucers. The numerous sores and skeletal bodies are further tip-offs. The ravages of the drug on family life are shocking. Children and spouses are assaulted during drug-induced rages. Mothers ignore the sexual abuse of their children, so long as the meth flows. The paranoid aspect means that many tweakers on a four day binge will march on police with guns if their property is approached, or murder their best friend, who now appears as a demon. Probably the most publicized meth rage was the guy who stole a tank in San Diego. He obliterated dozens of cars before entering the Mission Expressway. He had to be shot to death to stop the carnage.

The first thing that police do when raiding a house lab is check the fridge. Often it is empty except for the chemicals used to do the next batch of meth. Social services are immediately behind them to take away any children found inside. The parents are too stoned to notice that their own children are starving. In the worst cases, the fridge is filled only with mold.

Johnson doesn't neglect the ravages on the gay community either. Using the case of one gay user, Thomas, he showed how easy it was to slip from occasional "party circuit" use, to not being able to get out of bed without it. His six figure income was in danger of disappearing as he stopped even showing up for work. Luckily for him his organization was supportive of his rehab. Most gays are not so lucky, for galloping out of the rural hinterland was a plague that would hit the urban gay scene with devastating force. The common link between the mainly heterosexual farm folk and the swinging gays was the exuberant and prolonged sexual effects of the drug. Promiscuity is a given in both worlds. Gays on meth were four times as likely to have unprotected sex and four times as likely to be infected with HIV. A timebomb in the making. As one gay official said, "It is heretical to talk about bad drugs. The gay community have always been big drug users. Having finally jumped out of the closet with both feet, they don't take kindly to being told what to do." The decision-makers of the gay world are themselves users, so there will be no gay Carrie Nations smashing up meth labs. Between the physical and mental ravages visited upon both sexual orientations, the gays have AIDS and a syphilis epidemic connected to their addictions. The once declining AIDS incidence amongst gays is coming to a rapid end.

Years ago, I met a fellow tourist named John in Santo Domingo. Our mutual addiction to the two-for-one happy hour drinks at the Sheraton Hotel was responsible for our acquaintance. John was an American real estate agent from Miami. As we started to hang out together, he related to me his battle with cocaine. It was quite a saga. He showed me a picture of his first girlfriend, an attractive blond. Then he showed me a photograph of his black girlfriend--also rather stunning. He left the blond for the black girl solely because the latter had better coke connections. She would take him to black clubs in unincorporated Dade county, where people would openly snort rock cocaine off the bar. Twice he was robbed in the parking lot of Bozo's Lounge, which he described as a small windowless bunker with a single steel re-enforced door. Still, he kept going back, because Bozo's had the purest coke.

Needless to say his commission salary dropped drastically. He started to worry about the apartment rent. He had to trade in his Mercedes for a Pinto. His girlfriend started bringing home strange black dudes with funky hats and Mr. T jewellry. Some of them were very paranoid. The final straw, before he saw the bottom, was when he purchased two scalper tickets for $200 for the Superbowl. His beloved Miami Dolphins were in it. Before going, he and his black chick did $200 worth of coke to see them through the game. All these purchases were in 1980's dollars. At the half time intermission, they crashed. They left and went back to the apartment to vacuum up another $200 (his emergency stash) of blow. They arrived back at the game five minutes before its conclusion. Friends described to him the most exciting second half they had ever witnessed. John went into rehab after that. Now he says he smokes only grass and he drinks; his sales fortunes returned. Oh, and he dumped the black girlfriend for a mousey secretary. I have always thanked John for that graphic autobiographical sketch of the coke spiral.

I mention that episode because things would have been far worse if John's drug of choice had been meth. He would have been painting his windows black, posting a killer dog in the front yard and sitting in his lemon tree all night long, armed with a sawed-off shotgun. There are those voices and hallucinations that take over after a while. They usually counsel very nutsy thoughts, like the man who said he was only throwing out a devil from his car, when it was actually the severed head of his son. Eventually, even the postman is really a narc. John was spared that final descent.

Instead of wasting their time on marijuana busts, the police should make every possible effort to stem the creation and flow of methamphetamine into our communities. It has trickled in already, but not to the extent that it has gripped the American mid-west. Those prairie farmers who have isolated properties may decide to end their illegal "crop rotation" and move on to meth production. They even have the legal access to a special ingredient, anhydrous ammonia, which can produce a super-potent form of meth. We can't afford to lose a generation of fine, upright 4-H'ers to this poison. Read Johnson's book to see how easily it could happen here.

© Bud Talkinghorn--The book was published in 2005 by Hazelden Foundation, Center City Minn. USA.

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