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.

Mahon says his unit's target groups include, in order: youngsters who've never tried methamphetamine; the parents of those youngsters; employers; and, last, people whose meth habits already are well-established.

"The latter group will eventually die," he says, "but you can't, to steal an old Navy term, just push them off the deck. You have to treat them humanely. But I really believe that, except for that segment that's too far gone on drugs, a large number of people will respond at some point."

To that end, the unit--with the pro bono assistance of Valley ad agencies--has started to air public service announcements.

"We're looking at the DHS' [state Health Department] series of anti-tobacco spots as our model," Mahon says. "Some very effective, meaningful, in-your-face stuff."

The advertisements won't be as histrionic as the videos produced recently by the City of Glendale, Tweakers for Teachers and Tweakers: The Grim Realities of Crystal Meth.

"What's everybody looking at?" a male tweaker asks himself as he meanders down a school hallway. "Something stinks. Is that me? Is that me? I'm itching. I'm itching! I'm crashing! Oh, God, let me just die!"

A young female commentator remarks grimly: "The stuff actually shrinks your brain."

She raises a point that hints at the extensive use of meth in the Glendale school district: "Crystal, we all know it's no good. . . . We've all heard of people who've lost it on crystal."

The Reefer Madness air of the videos notwithstanding, it's hard to fault Glendale's effort--at least the city made one. Arizona State University has no methamphetamine education component on campus.

Also, in a drug-use-on-campus survey last October, school officials neglected even to ask students about their experience with methamphetamine.

DEA spokesman Larry Hedberg identifies three local high schools in different parts of town to illustrate the growing methamphetamine use among teens: North Canyon High in north Phoenix, Trevor Browne High in west Phoenix, and Horizon High on the Phoenix-Scottsdale border. (Asked to comment on meth use at their schools, no administrators returned calls by press time.)

"There's a whole generation today that's never heard the 'speed kills' stuff," Hedberg says. "They think meth was invented just for them."

Steve and JoAnne
If she hadn't accidentally broken her glass pipe last night, JoAnne says, she would have smoked herself to death by morning.

"I had to have that pipe in my mouth," she says, vacantly. The Phoenix mother of two is crashing as she speaks. "It didn't matter if my pulse was 200. I didn't care."

It's late morning now, and time to reflect.
After the pipe shattered, JoAnne says, she decided to quit doing meth--again. In a sudden gesture, the 32-year-old threw the rest of her stash in the toilet and flushed.

But, JoAnne says, she changed her mind. She reached into the water, but it was too late.

JoAnne then called her fiance, 34-year-old Steve, and asked him to pick her up before he came here, to rehab, in the morning.

Now, they're sitting in a conference room at New Horizons, a Phoenix outpatient drug-treatment center. Steve says he's been clean for four days, and wants to stay that way. His manner contrasts that of JoAnne, his girlfriend of seven years.

She fidgets with her hands under the table, and looks down when she talks. He clasps his hands on the table, and looks an inquisitor in the eye. JoAnne is spaced out; Steve is focused.

Steve says he and JoAnne both had stayed away from meth for almost three weeks before they'd relapsed the previous Friday.

This is Wednesday.
He says he got high Friday night, then stopped cold. But JoAnne kept going. And going. And going. On Sunday night, she got paranoid, and accused Steve of having an affair with her sister, and kicked him out of their house.

Later, JoAnne physically attacked her sister, and spent a day in jail until her parents posted her bail. As soon as she was released, JoAnne says, she got right back on the pipe.

"I'm having a bad week," JoAnne says, trying to smile. "Sometimes I just get so frustrated. I just want to escape this whole world--this whole flipping, ugly world. I just want to escape my kids, all my responsibilities. Everything."

She falls silent. It's been about seven hours since her last hit.
"I hope to God I can stay off it," JoAnne says, finally, "because I think this is my last chance. I think I'm going to die if I go back."

Then she leaves most of the talking to Steve.
"I started doing meth in 1986," says the stocky construction worker in boots and denim jeans. In the mid-1980s, however, the college graduate toiled as a high-tech electrician.

"The company I worked for started 24-hour service, and I was always on call. I was making good bonuses, but I needed something to keep up with the pace. First it was just caffeine pills--No Doz, Vivarin--but once I started pissing blood from eating too many, I switched to meth. I'm a workaholic. I didn't do meth for fun. I did it so I could work more."

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