Pubdate: Tue, 30 Nov 2004
Source: Ladysmith-Chemanius Chronicle (CN BC)
Copyright: 2004 BC Newspaper Group & New Media
Author: Edward Hill
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


For one young Ladysmith girl, this year's Light-Up festival is a
bittersweet anniversary. One year ago to the day, while the crowds
applauded the fireworks, she snorted her first hit of

>From that point, her life became a sad cautionary tale of drug abuse.
Using only on weekends quickly devolved into weeklong binges. She
traded school for tripping out in meth houses. A home for the streets.
Life for a high.

"Going from a happy home to nothing, you feel like you're in Hell,"
says "Jane", a teenage meth addict who chose to speak out on
conditions of anonymity. "I want to warn other kids not to do it."

Jane couldn't nail down exactly why she started using. By any measure
she was a typical teenager. She had plenty of friends, did well in
school and didn't have self-esteem issues beyond a usual teenage girl.
Home life was good and she wasn't abused.

But she frequented a friend's house, smoking pot with adults who she
coined "closet junkies." Jane had experimented will all kinds of
drugs, and one evening when a line was free for the taking, it was
just another to add to the list.

"Adults around me were using meth; my friend's dad was giving it
away," she says. "The first time I used was exactly one year ago at

The meth, of course, acted as it does. The pleasure centres of her
brain and nervous system were amplified to the max. She was euphoric,
upbeat and able to concentrate. "Everybody seemed really friendly,"
she says.

Amphetamines - of which methamphetamine is a derivative - were
originally designed for weight loss, anxiety, attention deficit
disorder and even a nasal decongestant. It alters the neurotransmitter
serotonin, which, not coincidentally, influences mood, appetite, sleep
and sexual inclinations.

Unfortunately, meth will permanently stunt serotonin-linked
neurotransmission in the brain, even after one hit. The brain is
unable to again provide the kind of exultant pleasure from the first
time around, pushing users to take more frequent and larger doses.
Enough meth will lead to psychosis or will eventually overwhelm the
nervous system, causing death.

Jane and her friends became binge junkies, cranking everyday for a
month, then recharging clean for a couple weeks. Typical of meth
heads, they would stay awake for up to nine days straight playing
cards or running around in the woods. Doing arts and crafts. Cleaning.

After about three days it's no longer a drug high, Jane says, but
insanity setting in.

And the paranoia took hold. Jane started hearing voices and felt those
around her were saying hateful things. Shadows started moving like in
a nightmare, so she had to start sleeping with the lights on. To this
day, sober, she still sees the dark, ebbing forms.

"You feel dead coming down," Jane says, "It felt like my soul was
sucked out. I was walking around lifeless, not capable of being human."

Jane's parents were unable to handle her erratic, increasingly
delusional behaviour. Her weight dropped dramatically, she was
expelled from school and was eventually kicked out of her home.

But a network of users between the town and Nanaimo provided a place
to crash, in exchange for drugs.

Meth is cheap, about $10 per "point" or a tenth of a gram. It was easy
to find in Ladysmith, she says, usually from dealers operating in
"Candy Crack Lane" running behind the Traveller's Inn to the Island

She says adults would often give it away, or she and her crew would
dabble in auto break-ins to finance the habit. Unlike other girls,
Jane avoided falling into the sex-trade despite pressures from pimps
and dealers.

"I've never been abused, I was protected," Jane says. "I got offers to
buy dope for sex, but it's degrading. I never lowered myself to that

In the first week of November Jane hit bottom, using more than 20
points a week, never sleeping and never eating. She decided to get
help, to pull out of her self-imposed cycle of destruction.

"I felt horrible and I wanted to change. It was just getting worse and
worse," she says. "I wasn't making any plans for my future. It felt
like I was awake and dreaming at the same time."

While Jane is a testament to the easy slide into drug addiction, she
is also a testament to the astounding resiliency of youth. She has
been clean for three weeks with help from the Ladysmith Resource
Centre, is back at home and will get back in school soon.

"Now I have to make myself busy, to never have time to do drugs," she
says. "And I stay away from the downtown area; it's a trigger zone."

And she looks like a normal, healthy teenager with none of the gaunt,
wasted features typical to addicts. But she points out the chemical
burns in her nose and throat from smoking and snorting meth.

"My life has become a giant circle. The wool was pulled over my eyes
for a one-year trip," Jane says. "And I still see the shadows move."
Anyone needing help with addictions can call the Ladysmith Resource
Centre at 245-3079.
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