Methology - Part I

Arizona is awash in crystal methamphetamine, a highly addictive stimulant that makes the weak strong, the lazy motivated, the fat thin, the trivial profound. Abuse it enough, and it can also make you psychotic.

* A 39-year-old Avondale man, stopped on yet another traffic violation. A search revealed meth. He's been on welfare for three years, since hurting his back at work. In lieu of prosecution, the man agreed to be a snitch for Avondale police. He then failed to contact his handlers, which led to the charges against him. Married for 15 years, the man has a 12-year-old daughter.

* A 26-year-old man nabbed by Phoenix police in a church parking lot. He had meth and drug paraphernalia in a pants pocket. He claimed he'd found the items in a Dumpster. The man described his mode of employment as "skippin' by." Now, he's a construction laborer, and seems to be doing well.

* A 38-year-old northwest Phoenix sheet-metal worker who police stopped after seeing his car lacked license plates. A search produced two vials of meth and a glass pipe.

* A 41-year-old diesel mechanic arrested near a west Phoenix park. He told police he used speed about once monthly, but considers himself a boozer, not a druggie.

* A 32-year-old west Phoenix single mother stopped because she'd forgotten to turn on her car lights. Police found 1.3 grams in her fanny pack, which she claimed belonged to an ex-boyfriend.

* A 28-year-old Tolleson construction worker stopped on a traffic violation. The man admitted spending up to $200 a week on meth in 1996, but claimed he'd never been addicted.

* A 20-year-old Phoenix man who is an assistant manager for a large retailer. Police seized four grams of meth during a raid of the man's home, and arrested him. His employers have written glowing letters of support to the court: "He is very industrious, a real 'go-getter,'" one letter noted.

* A 26-year-old Glendale factory worker who hired a prostitute and drove her to a desert location. Sheriff's deputies happened upon the pair near the Agua Fria River. A search uncovered meth, which the man claimed wasn't his.

"I know the number of meth cases in front of me are exploding," Commissioner Hyatt says. "This hasn't been gradual--it's been boom! Something is obviously happening out there."

The Tweaking Life
"I'm a 50-year-old grandmother, and I been doing speed--rocket fuel--on and off for 25 years," says a Phoenix woman we'll call Janie. "I can do an awful lot of the stuff, but I never saw things like some people do. The mailbox was always a mailbox, even when people around me said it was a cop."

Janie smiles. There are gaping holes where teeth used to be. There is little flesh on her bones, her face is craggy and her forearms are pocked with needle scars. She looks much older than 50, but says she's healthier now than since she last quit using October 1 (court-ordered drug tests confirm this).

She and four men, all between the ages of 35 and 43, sit around a table at the Maricopa County probation offices on North Central Avenue. It's 5 p.m. on December 11. Two of the men have arrived in their work clothes--one's a welder, the other works at a car wash.

They are friendly, well-spoken, and not prone to using buzz words--"enabling," "co-dependent," "issues"--when referring to themselves. They seem haunted, to varying degrees, by what they've done to themselves and those around them.

"I feel most guilty about the good times I have lost with my wife and family--not caring about nothing but getting drugs," says the welder, a burly 43-year-old named Kirk who once had a two-gram-a-day habit. "I've always had a job and made good money. But I've been an addict pretty much since I was a kid in Ohio stealing Mom's diet pills. They tell me I'll need a liver transplant someday from the speed I've done. But I'm still alive. No AIDS, even with all those needles."

Kirk knocks on wood, or, rather, on the metal table. His attitude is, what he's done, he's done, ugly though it may be.

All five people are here for mandatory group counseling, which is part of their contract with Maricopa County's drug court. Each previously pleaded guilty to methamphetamine-related felonies.

Each has been an addict for years.
Some are doing better than others: Kirk, for example, says he's been straight since May 1996--with one glaring exception earlier this year, when he scored and smoked a $20 rock of crack cocaine. Jimmy, on the other hand, says he failed his most recent drug test less than a week ago.

"I twiddled my thumbs and did a lot of nothing--as usual," he says. He's a laconic, 35-year-old father of one who lives in Phoenix's Sunnyslope neighborhood. "It just took me away from wherever my head was. I was bummed because someone took my truck. So I got high. Whoopee."

Bobby nods in agreement. Also 35, he's an aspiring electronics technicican who's wearing a black-leather tassled jacket and a large crucifix. He says he first used "chemicals" when he was about 21, and was a cocaine addict for much of the 1980s in his native Pennsylvania.

Bobby says he got into methamphetamine when he moved here a few years ago--"You can't escape meth in the Valley of the Sun," he pronounces.

Then a mechanic, he recalls his workmates would "chip a little bit"--snort a small line of meth--in the morning, as though it were coffee. He, too, started chipping, and beyond.

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