Methology - Part III

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.

Tweaking on a school night, Scotty says, is a no-no.
"That feeling you get when the sun's coming up and you haven't slept and you've got things to do that day . . . eggh. That's when you know what a vampire feels like."

Scotty looks up at an imaginary sun, shields his face with his forearms and hisses. Soon, he ducks into a nearby room with his girlfriend, who's also tweaking.

A half-hour later, they return with a newly compiled list of "Top Five Things Tweakers Say":

1. "No, no, dude. I can fix it."
2. "Get the guns--I'm sure I just heard our name on the police scanner."
3. "What time is it?"
4. "Are you sure there's no one out there?"
5. "I can drive. I got four hours of sleep on Wednesday."
Before moving along, Scotty agrees to continue the conversation later.

"I don't really have anything bad to say about speed," he says over the phone the following evening, sounding coherent and articulate.

"I've heard all the horror stories, but I've never gotten paranoid and started seeing things. I've never forgotten to take a shower, and I've never hurt anyone, including myself."

Scotty claims he controls his meth use, never buying more than $20 worth for a weekend: "Rule number one: Don't go buy more once you're out."

When he's high, Scotty likes to play video games, watch movies and attend parties. But his favorite thing on speed is to attend a Phoenix Suns game--he says he always gets good seats.

"I just get so into the strategy. It's like I can see what's going through the coaches' and players' minds . . . and the crowd cheering really gets me going. I feel like I'm out there playing.

"At a Suns game, you don't really have to worry about keeping yourself looking calm to other people. You can yell and jerk around and get excited and it's okay, because it's an NBA basketball game and you're a fan and that's what you're supposed to do. You know--NBA! It's Faaaaantastic!"

Scotty says he's applied "to a lot of good universities on the West Coast," and hopes his good grades will get him there.

Asked when and if he plans to quit using meth, Scotty waxes philosophical:
"Probably I will someday, just like I'll probably stop smoking cigarettes someday. But I only smoke cigarettes on weekends, too. My point is, if you can handle it sometimes, you can handle it. So instead of just saying no, I just say, 'Sometimes.'"

The Czar
Alex Mahon, "Arizona's first meth czar," says he doesn't care much for his unofficial handle.

"Sounds hokey to me," says Mahon, who has a slew of official titles, including colonel in the Arizona Air National Guard and the director of Arizona's Methamphetamine Control Strategy.

Methamphetamine wasn't even mentioned in the White House's 1994 report on the nation's illegal-drug problems.

But by October 1995, ex-governor J. Fife Symington III appointed Mahon to develop a statewide strategy to try to reverse meth's mushrooming growth.

It's been a daunting mission on all fronts, says the eclectic czar, a straight-talking man in his early 50s whose resume includes stints as an attorney, a jet pilot, a college professor and a DEA agent.

"I'd like to tell you that all the hard work that everyone's doing has indeed turned the corner," Mahon says, "that we're doing this fantastic job. But, right now, we don't actually see objective indications that that's happening."

One of Mahon's frustrations was apparent a few weeks ago, during a trip to Washington, D.C. At a meeting of fellow antidrug warriors, someone pointed out that recent "DOVE reports"--which track arrestees' self-reporting drug use--indicate that meth is on the wane.

"I heard phrases like, 'I think we've turned the corner,' from people who should know better," Mahon says. "What they did is to rely purely on a single, flawed statistic to come up with this rosy assessment."

Mahon suggests another reason:
"The DOVE reports probably have little to do with real-world drug use. The guy who does meth isn't necessarily going to stay dumb. The first time he admits to methamphetamine use, he may not know the consequence of his statement, but the second time he's going to clam up. Nowadays, it's the last thing you want to admit to using because, holy smokes, meth users are being associated with people who cut their kids' heads off."

Equally exasperating is the struggle police face against smalltime meth cooks:

"There's almost a professional disincentive for people to wrestle with an issue that's almost impossible to wrestle with. How can you possibly go into every suspect's home in a community, and try to keep him from cooking ounce quantities of methamphetamine in their kitchen? There's too many holes in the dike."

Mahon answers the question of why there's a meth czar and not, say, a crack czar or an acid czar:

"I think those other drugs came on the scene at a much more plodding rate, and didn't cause the alarm that methamphetamine did. Meth has captured a lot of people in a short amount of time in terms of use and abuse, and it's panicked a lot of people who've seen that. It scares the heck out of folks because of the violence associated with it, and it's absolutely the most perfectly available drug around."

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