Pubdate: Sun, 25 Oct 2009
Source: Gwinnett Daily Post, The (GA)
Copyright: 2009 Post-Citizen Media Inc.
Note: Letters can run as long as 400 words.
Author: Heather Hamacher, Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Georgia's Problem With Meth A Closer Look At The 'Monster' Drug

LAWRENCEVILLE - A Buford man will sit in prison for the next two years
after allowing his 17-month old daughter to swallow a batch of his

In Lawrenceville, a disabled woman returned home from an extended
hospital stay to find her utilities disconnected, an eviction notice
on her door. The daughter she left in charge of paying her bills
instead spent about $10,000 on drugs.

When it comes to methamphetamine - also known as meth, crank, speed or
ice, depending on its form - and its impact on lives, those stories
barely scratch the surface.

Meth is a highly addictive, man-made drug that has slowly made its way
east from the deserts of California to the plains of the Midwest,
blazing a trail of destruction right into the neighborhoods of north

Requiring household items and over-the-counter drugs, it's relatively
inexpensive and easy to make, making it popular among teenagers and
young adults looking for a cheap rush. According to the Department of
Health, Georgia is third in the nation in total number of meth users
between 12 and 17 years old.

Meth affects the central nervous system and the brain - and ultimately
behavior - raising dopamine (the brain chemical that allows us to feel
pleasure) levels to heights food, sex and even cocaine fall woefully
short of. It can be injected, snorted, inhaled or swallowed.

Most of the meth in the United States is manufactured in Mexican
"superlabs," smuggled in and stored here in stash houses or
distribution points. It is also cooked locally, however, in houses,
barns, shacks, hotel rooms and car trunks serving as makeshift labs.
Many of these operators, police say, are addicts looking to feed their
own habits rather than widely distribute the drug.

These labs - suitcase operations, some cops call them - are not
without risk, however, creating their own environmental hazards. For
every pound of meth cooked, 5 to 6 pounds of toxic waste is left
behind, often haphazardly dumped into nature. Because of the chemicals
and methodology involved, the labs are volatile.

Structures used to cook the drug are often left uninhabitable, but law
enforcement is left with the labor intensive and expensive cleanup.

"The dismantling, cleanup and disposal of labs is extremely
resource-intensive and beyond the financial capabilities of most
jurisdictions," said Gwinnett police spokesman Officer Brian Kelly,
who was once part of an Iowa drug task force. "The average cost of a
cleanup is about $5,000 but some cost up to $100,000 or more."

A relatively new method of cooking meth, apparently all the rage for
small-timers, is called the "shake and bake" or "one pot" method. This
method - requiring a bottle, some household chemicals and cold pills -
allows for the cooking of smaller amounts of meth without the hassle
of open flames and powerful odors that might summon law

While easier, this method isn't necessarily safer, since the cook
would actually be holding the "bomb" when it exploded.

Despite recent surges, statistics suggest meth may not be as prevalent
in Georgia as other drugs. In 2008, federal authorities seized 65
kilograms of methamphetamine. During that same year, more than 15
times that amount of cocaine was confiscated.

Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said he believes the
problem may be greater in northern, more rural counties.

Two of the biggest busts in U.S. history, though, happened right

A raid conducted at a Lawrenceville home Wednesday netted 174 pounds
of crystal meth, firearms and thousands of dollars in dirty money.
Thirty-one suspects, members of a Mexican drug cartel, were arrested.
Right under the nose of its neighbors, the house served as a
conversion lab for Mexican meth.

In May, federal authorities raided two Duluth homes being used as
stash houses, seizing more than 350 pounds of Mexican crystal meth
with an estimated street value of $7.7 million.

"From the perspective of a drug smuggler ... Gwinnett County offers
access to major thoroughfares for moving their product around the
Southeast and access to transportation corridors facilitating
transportation of illegal drugs throughout the country," Kelly said.

Gwinnett County Sheriff's spokeswoman Stacey Bourbonnais said the
county jail's medical staff doesn't keep statistics of prisoners'
specific drug preference. But according to the inmates being
processed, meth is their drug of choice.

"In the last 10 years, the medical staff here has seen the move from
crack cocaine being the top reported drug to meth being at the top of
the list," Bourbonnais said.

After an intense initial rush and period of euphoria, users may become
hyperactive and be unable to sleep. That's when they often resort to
different drugs to stabilize themselves.

"For instance, those taking meth are also taking benzodiazepines like
Xanax or a sedating antipsychotic like Seroquel to help them come
down," Bourbonnais said.

While these additional drugs lead to additional issues, meth is the
root of the dental problems (also known as "meth mouth") and psychosis
burdening jail medical personnel. It's the reason inmates seeking
replacement drugs try to "manipulate the system" during their
incarceration and why officials see increased cases of HIV and
Hepatitis and sexually transmitted diseases.

In 2007, Georgia Department of Corrections Commissioner James Donald
said the prison system, operating at 105 percent capacity, had taken
in nearly 3,000 meth-related criminals in a year.

Gwinnett Medical Center officials reported treating injuries suffered
while under the influence of meth, and one case of a man convinced
that he could fly.

So meth causes rotten teeth, violent behavior and brain damage. It is
responsible for fatal explosions and prison sentences - what's the

Priscilla Woolwine, director of Gwinnett County's drug treatment
court, said she's been told there's not a drug on the market - or
black market, as it may be - that makes a person as high as meth.

"It's the nonstop energy they receive," she said. "When they first
start doing meth, they have the ability to do anything; They have all
this energy and can clean for hours, stay awake and get things done."

The fact that it is cheaper and can be made at home, she said, is also
attractive to the prospective user.

Ironically, because meth can turn off the brain's ability to produce
dopamine, users can be left with an inability to receive pleasure from
anything except more and more meth.

A futile attempt, as Woolwine said that initial high can never be

Jim Langford, a native north Georgian, is the executive director of
the Georgia Meth Project, a privately funded meth prevention campaign
modeled after the Montana Meth Project.

Citing staggering crime and drug use statistics in some Georgia
counties, and Montana's success in reducing these incidents, Langford
said it is imperative to address the "emergency."

"This drug is a real monster. A flesh-eating, brain-frying,
homicide-suicide inducing, child-poisoning monster," Langford said in
a release. "And it costs us big money."

Studies conducted by the RAND Corporation suggest he is right. Between
health care, incarceration, law enforcement, foster care and lost work
productivity, meth use reportedly costs Georgia about $1.3 billion a

Attorney General Thurbert Baker agreed that something needs to be

"Methampetamine is crippling our state. We spend millions each year on
meth-related incarcerations alone, and yet the number of addicts in
Georgia continues to grow rapidly," he said. "If we do nothing, our
criminal justice system will reach a breaking point. As a state, we
must take a stand against this drug that is all too rapidly addicting
our youth." 
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