Pubdate: Sun, 11 Sep 2005
Source: News Leader, The (VA)
Copyright: 2005 News Leader
Author: Joel Baird
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Meth's Ominous Cloud Darkens Many Paths

STUARTS DRAFT - After 20 years of steady methamphetamine use, Kevin 
Armstrong said he's had enough. He knows he has a problem. But he's more 
concerned about his neighbors.

"Hey, we need some help around here," said the 1983 Riverheads High School 
grad. "There's a couple of generations in this Valley ready to be lost."

Armstrong described himself as an "occasional user." He spends more than 
$100 per week on the purer, smokable form of methamphetamine known as 
crystal meth, or ice. He says he enjoys the drug.

Yet he defies the stereotype of a wasted, toothless addict. He looks strong.

At 40, Armstrong moves like an athlete (he played football and ran track). 
He's a professional haircutter. He's alert, but not fidgety. He's 
articulate and thoughtful, and he tells a great joke.

And tears come to Armstrong's eyes when he talks about the miseries that 
haunt meth's down-time.

He is not a simple man, and meth is not an easy subject for him to discuss. 
He has felt the drug's thrills and endured its horrors. He encountered 
meth's corrosive effect on a community shortly after moving back to his 
cabin in Saint Mary's earlier this year.

"I've met 14-year-olds who are on this stuff, and I haven't even scratched 
the surface of what's going on," he said. "This whole Valley's eaten up 
with it."

Armstrong's fellow users come from a range of backgrounds.

"It's everyday people," he said. "It's good people, educated people, 
uneducated people; white collar, blue collar; people who drive BMWs, people 
who drive grandma's car that barely runs; housewives who've got two kids at 
home and are tired of washing clothes."

Anthony Schlotter, a 25th Judicial District Magistrate, has worked with 
Armstrong's intermittent legal problems from his office at the Augusta 
County Government Center. His assessment of the escalating meth scene is 
similar to Armstrong's; he described the steady increase in the drug's use 
as "frightening," because of the accompanying rise in child neglect, theft 
and assault.

"Everywhere you turn, (methamphetamine addicts) are rolling in here," he said.

Armstrong's brushes with the law have been relatively tame, most of them 
contempt of court, stemming from contested marital property. He has not 
been convicted of any crimes. He does not deal drugs, he says.

Yet meth has marked him.

The array of half-healed scars on his arms, Armstrong said, are the result 
of "picking on" himself while high.

"I consider myself one of the fortunate ones that can go without it 
affecting me - as in selling everything I have, as in not going out and 
stealing from someone," he said. "I can go for weeks at a time (without it)."

But relationships can take a beating. Armstrong's marriage is a recent 

"I want my family back; I want my life back. You can't have family 
structure with this stuff," he said.

"If I want any chance of getting that back, I've got to get away from 
crank," he added.

Armstrong said he first encountered meth at parties.

"We would only snort a little bit," he said. "We were more pot smokers; 
we'd listen to good heavy metal. It was an energy thing: It would keep you 
up. I mean, you could drink constantly without even getting intoxicated."

"Today people are smoking it," he continued. "They're putting it in 
(aluminum) foils. They're lighting it up and taking a straw and they're 
inhaling the smoke. It saves the wear and tear on your nose and it's a 
quicker high."

John Savides, a counselor at Augusta Medical Center's Recovery Choice 
outpatient program for substance abuse, said that many users begin for 
practical, rather than recreational reasons.

"People use it to stay awake, to work longer and harder, to work longer 
hours," he said.

Meth sped up Armstrong's chores and his haircutting business.

Then it hopped up his marriage.

"In the past couple years it's been more of a sexual enhancer than anything 
else," he said. "Especially if you had a partner that was in the same frame 
of mind."

It was a thrill laced with risk.

"We'd be all smiles, get a hotel room. Then, boom - when we come down, it's 
like, 'give me some more, or else.' It makes people volatile," he said.

Unlike relationships he's had with users and sellers of marijuana, his meth 
associates tend to treat each other with suspicion.

"There are no loyalties; there are no friendships," he said. "Nobody trusts 
one another; everybody thinks someone is a narc (narcotics agent) or 
someone's a cop.

"After the second day (of use) you need to eat, no matter that your mind's 
telling you that you're not hungry," he added. "If you don't eat, sooner or 
later, something's going to break down, and psychosis seems to set in."

Social interactions - even between friends or spouses - can become 
unpredictable and dangerous.

"They're wigging, what we call getting more paranoid, delusional and 
violent," he said. "If there's any mental issue, it brings it out."

Armstrong said that the aftermath of a weekend binge is widely referred to 
as "depression Sunday." Prolonged meth highs can take a higher toll on his 
nervous system, he added, unless he prepares for the drug's inevitable 

"I'm going to fix a country ham sandwich and a Dr Pepper, and I'm going to 
take a Xanax (an anti-anxiety drug) and I'm going to sleep, I'm going to 
rest; my body needs it," he said. "I know if I try to stay up any longer, 
it's going to be a problem. Some people don't know that."

Armstrong said he plans to taper off his use. He wants to return to a 
steady job of cutting hair. He wants to promote musical events in the area. 
He wants to improve drug awareness and treatment programs.

"I'm going to try to get myself away from meth," he said. "I want to be 

He wants to cut back.

"Healthy for me would be weekends only," he said.

But Savides said there may not be a healthy way to use meth.

"Nobody really knows their vulnerability to addiction until they've crossed 
the line," he said.

It's a fine, faint line for Armstrong.

"I don't know if I'll ever stop," he said.
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