By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
* The meth being sold in Arizona is stronger--and more poisonous--than ever.
* Meth is not just a "white-trash biker" drug anymore. Professionals use it, housewives use it and lots of white, suburban teens use it.
Arizona is trying to cope with the crisis in unprecedented ways--including the nation's first "meth czar" and first multiagency unit devoted solely to busting meth labs. Yet, as is the case with most drug epidemics, authorities remain behind the curve. Despite meth's explosion, little solid empirical evidence of the drug's proliferation is available.
"A key issue in this war is that we started out with a garbled set of statistics about where we are and where we're going," says Alex Mahon, the director of the Governor's Methamphetamine Control Strategy--also known as the czar.
"Some of the stats we're working with right now are old and misleading. I think methamphetamine caught us unaware. All we can say for sure is that we know we have an exploding problem out there."
I'm having trouble trying to sleep
I'm counting sheep but running out
As time ticks by
And still I try
My eyes feel like they're going to bleed
Dried up and bulging from my skull
My mouth is dry
My face is numb
Fucked up and spun out in my room
On my own, here we go . . .
--Green Day, "Brain Stew," 1995
Black Widow Drug
In its pure form, methamphetamine is a crystalline, sparkling white powder. But most street meth isn't pure. Far from it. Clandestine meth labs aren't known for their stringent quality control. As a result, street meth comes in assorted colors, each because of a different type and level of toxic contamination.
Most Valley street meth is off-white or pale yellow. Light pink and brown also are common. Exotic strains include violet, black, maroon and bright green. Some polluted strains are assigned slang names--Lemon Drop, Candy Apple, Rocky Mountain Red--by users who don't know or care that color means poison.
Ten milligrams of meth--1U100th of a gram--is enough to get a first-time user high. A typical line, or recreational dose of meth, is usually 30 to 50 milligrams. Tolerance builds quickly: Meth addicts often ingest one, or even two grams a day.
The street price of meth in the Valley is $20 to $25 for a quarter-gram, and $100 to $125 for a "teener," or about 1.75 grams.
Like cocaine, there are four ways to get high on meth: snort it, swallow it, smoke it or inject it. Also like coke, meth comes in two forms: powder and rock.
What's the difference? Not much.
Technically, the term "crystal meth" refers only to rock meth. As use of the drug has exploded, that street-level distinction has been lost. "Crystal" now means anything from a fat, white rock to a pinch of colored powder.
Meth users prefer to buy rock, because dealers usually "cut" meth powder with look-alike substances like caffeine or B-12 vitamin crystals to increase profit.
Also, meth rocks aren't only for smoking. Users may easily crush a small "pebble" into powder or shave a line off a larger rock using a razor blade, credit card or even the side of a matchbook.
Unlike cocaine, which quickly numbs the nasal passage, snorting meth burns. No wonder, considering two common ingredients in street meth are Red Devil lye and drain cleaner.
The dirtier the meth, the worse your pain. Your face turns red. Your eyes tear. If you're lucky, the speed will kick in before acrid chemicals ooze down your throat. You'll still taste them if you're high, but you probably won't care as much.
Once in the body, meth artificially triggers a massive release of two chemicals in the central and peripheral nervous systems:
* Dopamine, associated with pain suppression, appetite control and the brain's self-reward center.
* Norepinephrine, which activates a body's fight-or-flight response in emergencies.
Basically, meth's a trickster. It fools your body and mind into behaving like you're in danger, that you've just eaten a full meal, and that you should feel satisfied with life.
Methamphetamine takes effect about five minutes after snorted, or less than half-hour after eaten. The effects from smoking or injecting meth are instantaneous.
However you cut it, the drug's short-term results include a sudden boost in energy, alertness and self-esteem, along with a feeling of euphoria and increased sexuality. Your pupils dilate and your heart rate increases, along with blood pressure, body temperature and lung capacity. Time flies. Overall athletic performance may improve notably.
But methamphetamine is a black widow drug. The honeymoon is wonderful.
What follows is nasty.
Three to four hours after their first dose, users will experience a gradual decline in mood and energy, followed by a nose dive. How hard you crash depends on how high you were flying.
If the meth you took was dirty--quite likely in Arizona these days--you've been poisoned, and once the speed starts to wear off, you'll know it.
All negative symptoms can be reversed with another dose. But the more meth you take, the worse you'll feel once you finally do stop.
Veteran tweakers consider two- and three-day runs to be bush league. Five days are common. Nine days seems to be the outer limit for most, but some meth users say they never catch more than snatches of sleep.