Pubdate: Sun, 12 Oct 2003
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2003 Los Angeles Times
Contact:  http://www.latimes.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/248
Author: William Lobdell and Mai Tran, Times Staff Writers

UPSCALE, BUT WITHIN METH'S GRASP

Recent Arrests Show The Highly Addictive Drug With A Rural Reputation Is 
Also Ravaging Lives In Upper-Income Neighborhoods.

As the mother of a former crystal-meth addict, Marla Herman isn't surprised 
by what the drug can do.

She watched her daughter, Renee DeMontreux, a former cheerleader at Redondo 
Union High School, go from a college student with a full-time job to a 
methamphetamine addict, dealer and drug-maker in less than a year.

The change was "devastating and really quick," said Herman, 48, a Rancho 
Palos Verdes resident, adding with a bitter laugh: "That is the wonderful 
thing about meth."

For those with firsthand knowledge of the drug, it wasn't a shock that 
Orange County sheriff's deputies arrested 22-year-old Adriean Volz last 
month on suspicion of converting her parents' 5,000-square-foot home in a 
gated Laguna Niguel community into a meth lab capable of producing 
$1-million worth of the drug each year.

Though stereotyped as the drug of rural and lower-class neighborhoods, 
methamphetamine has become ubiquitous among drug-using teens and young 
adults no matter their economic or social status, say authorities and experts.

"The drug doesn't hold any boundaries," said Ed Smith, 34, a former meth 
addict and now a director of Narconon Southern California, an inpatient 
rehabilitation center based in Newport Beach. "I've sold crystal meth to 
junkies and to businessmen inside million-dollar homes."

Nor did it surprise meth experts that authorities said Volz and the three 
men arrested with her - including a pair of parolees - had used their 
profits to fund the Nazi Low Riders, a prison and street gang. Even those 
with affluent upbringings say that once hooked on methamphetamine, they 
quickly adopted "the meth lifestyle," which includes befriending a new 
group of people - fellow addicts, many of whom are involved in crime.

In an interview, DeMontreux, 24, said she exchanged her well-to-do suburban 
friends for gang members and criminals after becoming addicted.

"My boyfriend was in jail, and my dealer - who I helped cook the meth with 
- - was shot and killed," said DeMontreux, a baby-faced blond who lost 50 
pounds from her 5-foot-1 frame and was arrested three times during her 
addiction. Twice she was convicted of misdemeanor drug offenses and both 
times sentenced to probation on condition of undergoing treatment.

She now helps others get off drugs and said she's been clean for nine 
months. Orange County sheriff's investigators say something similar 
happened to Volz. On Sept. 9 they arrested her and three male friends on 
suspicion of building a meth lab that nearly filled the large, expensive 
house where Volz lived. The woman's parents, who were undergoing a divorce, 
lived in other family homes.

Police said the parents were unaware of the drug operation. The young 
woman's parents - including father George Peterson, president of an Irvine 
construction and development company - could not be reached.

The high-profile bust underscored what authorities and meth experts have 
known for some time: Crystal meth's popularity has spread to all neighborhoods.

"It's not only a poor person's drug," said Sgt. Chuck Chapman, an Orange 
County sheriff's deputy in charge of the countywide Proactive 
Methamphetamine Laboratory Investigative Task Force, formed in 1997. He 
added that in recent years meth labs have been found in upscale Dana Point, 
Niguel Shores, Irvine, Laguna Beach and San Clemente.

"We don't get them often in multimillion-dollar homes," Chapman said. "It's 
a little unusual. You always find them in standard middle-class homes." 
Mike Szyperski, detective of the narcotics unit of Newport Beach Police 
Department, said 80% of his division's time is spent curbing meth use.

"Everyone is doing it," Szyperski said. "It's the drug of choice."

State Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement officials seized 51 meth labs in 
Orange County in 2002. So far this year, they have busted 40. According to 
the attorney general's office, the state confiscated more than $38 million 
in drugs during seizures in 2002. Of that figure, $5.5 million was from meth.

In 2002, Los Angeles officials seized 163 meth labs. This year, as of Aug. 
30, 82 labs have been seized.

Jerry Hunter, a special agent in charge of a Los Angeles police task force, 
said many labs are set up in motel rooms, where they are called "kitchen" 
or "stove" labs that can produce about an ounce of meth at a time.

Because methamphetamine can be produced using store-bought ingredients, the 
labs - which leave behind toxic chemicals and can produce devastating 
explosions - can be set up anywhere, though manufacturers usually prefer 
more isolated locations.

"Even if you're rich, it doesn't seal you off," Hunter said.

Crystal meth has other appeals for drug users living in the suburbs. First, 
it's manufactured locally and distributed to affluent communities.

"[You can] avoid much of the risk of getting cocaine in a section of town 
where you might get hurt in a variety of ways, lose your money and still 
not get any drugs," said Dr. Thomas R. Kosten, a professor of psychiatry at 
Yale University. "The police are also less likely to be looking intently 
for drug dealers in the affluent parts of suburbia."

Also, Kosten said upscale users can afford to feed their addictions.

"They get used to the drugs and have more money to spend," Smith said. "The 
more they do, the more screwed up they get."

Studies show that one in seven meth users becomes dependent, Kosten said. 
Former users say the first couple of hits - you can snort it, smoke it or 
inject it - are euphoric. The stimulant allows users to stay up for days at 
a time.

"The rush that you get from it is so strong, you feel like Superman," said 
Smith, who grew up in middle-class Livermore Valley in Northern California, 
the son of a firefighter and prominent real estate broker.

DeMontreux said she believed in the beginning that she had stumbled upon a 
miracle drug.

"With it, I could go to school, work full-time and I was losing weight," 
DeMontreux said. "I thought it was this glorious thing."

Smith, DeMontreux and others say the pleasant high didn't last long, and 
their days and nights were soon consumed by the search for their next fix.

"The attraction of crystal meth is its long-acting stimulation of the 
brain," said Dr. David F. Musto, a professor at the Yale University School 
of Medicine and an expert on the drug. "The problem is that it drains the 
brain of normal and necessary elements. The user feels the need to keep 
using it to hold off crashing."

In order to concentrate fully on the drug, Smith folded a welding business 
he operated. DeMontreux quit college and was fired as manager of a 
fast-food establishment for erratic behavior and stealing money. fBoth 
ended up making and selling the drug.

"Everything you're doing is for the drug," DeMontreux said. "Every person 
you speak to, every move you make, is about meth."

Musto said it's not surprising that users congregate "because they are in a 
world of their own" with only one goal in mind: the next high. The signs of 
addiction - erratic behavior, weight loss, lying, stealing, change of 
friends - may be recognized by family and friends, but often little can be 
done.

"Meth users often think they are OK," Musto said. "How can being so 
euphoric be bad? Nonusers can see the true situation, but getting meth 
users into treatment is difficult."

Former meth users said there was nothing their family or friends could have 
done -compassion, tough love or anything in between - to get them off the 
drug. They needed to decide on their own.

DeMontreux said it took her third arrest and a friend killed before she 
agreed to go into treatment.

For Smith, staring down the barrel of SWAT team rifles served as his 
wake-up call during a bust of his meth lab.

"It was just like on TV," said Smith, who said he's been clean for four 
years. "I thought, 'This is it, meth. My life is going to be different from 
now on.' "
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman