By his own admission, as a high school student Matt* was an alcoholic and marijuana user who trafficked methamphetamine for a friend, but didn’t use it at first. Soon, however, he was looking for ways to stay up later so he could continue his drinking habits. He “experimented” with meth, and found that he could stay up all night, was more productive than normal, and enjoyed being high on meth. But what started as a one-time experiment led to a 20-year drug abuse habit he is still fighting everyday.
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Matt isn’t alone: 1.9 million Americans ages 12 and older abused meth in 2005. The Monitoring the Future Study showed that in 2006 1.1% of 8th graders, 1.6% of 10th graders, and 1.7% of 12th graders had abused meth (see http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/) These figures can be explained by the characteristics of meth: it’s cheap and can be easy to make with the right formula, yet produces intense and addictive effects on the central nervous system and the rest of the body.
Meth is made out of toxic substances that wreak havoc if they linger in the body. Yet studies show that meth users often don’t eat or drink enough, so the toxic substances remain and eat away at the body and the brain, causing permanent effects, like holes in the brain.
“Going through jail I saw guys who lost their teeth,” Matt says, “ I saw huge cookies [self-inflicted scab formation on the cheek that occurs when users hallucinate bugs on their skin]. I used to have cookies… I had hallucinations, paranoia, and psychoses… Sometimes I still have psychoses when I get stressed.” Small wonder he likes to say that the word “meth” is an acronym for Mental Entrance to Hell.
But despite the adverse effects methamphetamine had on him and those he encountered, Matt continued abusing the drug, as did many he associated with because meth is extremely addictive and hard. “I heard once that only 5 percent of people get out of it. I don’t know if that’s true but it was hard for me,” he says. Indeed it was so difficult that as he was attempting to withdraw from meth he became addicted to painkillers to ease the pangs of withdrawal.
These withdrawal symptoms are so profound that many meth users will do anything they can to stave them off, which is why meth is the root of many crimes committed in Minnesota. “It [methamphetamine use] is the single biggest drain on our criminal justice system in our state,” states Jim Backstrom, a Dakota County Attorney. “Between 30-35 percent of all the crime in my county is the result of methamphetamine use.”
Dakota County is not alone: in Minnesota 90 percent of property crimes are linked to either meth or crack abuse and 69 percent of Minnesota counties reported increased child protection cases due to meth according to http://www.revealingmeth.com/. Nor is the damage confined to crime waves. According to Dr. Lindsey Thomas, a Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner whose territory includes Carver, Chisago, Dakota, Fillmore, Goodhue, Houston and Scott Counties, out of 350 deaths she examined last year, 20 tested positive for methamphetamine.
Although methamphetamine is very addicting, there is hope. Meth users can turn their lives around to become drug free. Just ask Matt.
Matt turned himself into the cops and began turning his life around. He started going to NA (Narcotics Anonymous), he’s trying to become a good example for his two kids, he’s getting involved in sharing his experience in hospitals, and he’s doing volunteer work in the community. “I’m sick of being stuck in quicksand,” he says. “I am now living one day at a time and I’m grateful that I’m getting my life back together and I have God in my life.”
*Name has been changed for privacy’s sake
_A nursing student at Anoka Ramsey Community College, Caitlynn Cooper is enrolled in an online journalism class offered in collaboration between the college and TCMA_