Meth Fatalities

Methamphetamine is number-one with a bullet when it comes to violent death in Phoenix

Norm Wade also points out that "the coming-down phase," when meth users must endure the crash of crashes, sometimes has proved too much to bear.

"Sometimes suicide apparently seems like the best option to these folks," he says.

Nineteen people in Maricopa County committed suicide under the influence of meth in the first six months of 2005, compared with 13 during the same time period in 2004.

Another 27 people under the influence of meth died in accidents of one sort or another from January through June of this year, an increase of seven over 2004. Those accidents included car and motorcycle wrecks (most of them single-vehicle), bicyclists and pedestrians hit by cars, and drownings.

People on methamphetamine this year have died in hot tubs, in their backyards, in motel rooms, in ditches, and on the toilet.

The oldest person with meth discovered postmortem in his system was a 66-year-old Phoenix man who succumbed in his backyard.

The youngest was a 14-year-old Phoenix boy who also died at his home.

Other recent typical examples of death by meth:

• A 15-year-old Mesa girl under methamphetamine intoxication after attending a party.

• A 54-year-old Tolleson farm worker who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage with a load of meth in him.

• A 35-year-old man under the influence of meth who leaned against a metal storage shed electrified by a live wire.

• A 17-year-old Tempe boy who hanged himself in his bathroom while coming down from a dose of meth.

• A 34-year-old woman awaiting a liver transplant who smoked too much meth and suffered a fatal brain aneurysm.

Transients have died of methamphetamine abuse, as have middle-class citizens with decent jobs. Even the occasional person of means has fallen victim to the drug.

Also, if the incidence of meth-related deaths in the first half of 2005 is a fair indicator, Valley Latinos are embracing the drug in numbers not seen before.

Thirty-four of the 38 Phoenix murder victims who died with methamphetamine in their systems through this June were of Latino descent. That's almost nine of every 10 cases.

Beyond ethnic origin, the number of people over the age of 30 dying of meth-related causes has grown.

"I recently signed off on a 63-year-old woman with a heart condition who died with a great deal of methamphetamine in her," county toxicologist Wade says. "And this isn't nearly as uncommon as most people might think."

Wade says he and his peers have identified an increasing number of older people whose bodies haven't been able to withstand the onslaught of a methamphetamine high -- and low.

Probably most disturbing of the deaths by meth have been the five babies that were stillborn or died moments after their births in the first half of 2005. All turned out to have methamphetamine in their tiny bodies.

The Phoenix mother of Caleb Davis "had a history of drug use and no prenatal care when she reportedly described having cramps at a friend's house and delivered the child stillborn" last March, a medical examiner's report says. Caleb also had an adult-size dose of methamphetamine in his system, which pathologists blamed in part for his death.

A Mesa baby named Joseph Reising lived for just 15 minutes last April after he was born more than three months prematurely. Joseph also had meth in him. Official cause of death: "Complications due to maternal [methamphetamine] use."

And in May, Baby Girl Atkinson was delivered stillborn at a Phoenix hospital after her mother said she hadn't felt the fetus move for more than a day. The official cause of death was "placental abruption," the early separation of a normal placenta from the wall of the uterus. The mother later tested positive for methamphetamine, as did Baby Girl Atkinson.

Two other babies with meth in their bodies, Teresa Aguilar and Baby Nissen, died in Maricopa County during the first six months of this year.

None of the five mothers has yet to be arrested for their roles in their babies' deaths.


It's long past time to toss out the stereotype of the typical methamphetamine user.

You know, the young pimply faced white loser dude who spends his days bouncing off the walls of his single-wide in Apache Junction.

These days, it's clear that all manner of people are indulging in the drug.

Obviously not everyone who gets high on meth turns violent. But Phoenix psychiatrist Jack Potts, who has interviewed hundreds of tweakers incarcerated on criminal charges in the past decade, testified earlier this year that meth "contributes to and causes aggression. It causes an increase in violence in users."

Potts' observations are supported by recent studies, including one at the East Bay Community Recovery Project in Oakland, California.

"[Meth-abusing] participants reported high levels of psychiatric symptoms, particularly depression and attempted suicide," that study concluded, "but also of anxiety and psychotic symptoms. [In addition, participants] also reported high levels of problems controlling anger and violent behavior, with a correspondingly high frequency of assault and weapons charges."

The studies confirm what police in Phoenix and elsewhere have been seeing since meth took over a few years ago as the hard-core drug of choice: People on the drug tend to get violent and fatally stupid when confronted by the cops.

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