Pubdate: Wed, 15 Sep 1999
Source: Deseret News (UT)
Copyright: 1999 Deseret News Publishing Corp.
Author:  Dennis Romboy, Deseret News staff writer


Use Of Drug For Weight Loss May Be Rising Among Utah Women

Luann Kahus liked what she saw in the mirror. A tall, slender, raven-haired
woman in her early 40s. Nice teeth. Wide smile. A new grandma who could
slip easily into a size 5 dress if not a size 3.

This weight-loss drug was great for her figure, not that she was ever
overweight anyway.

At first she thought she'd just take it for a short time. But it made her
feel so good. Extremely good, euphoric even. And her looks. Wow! The diet
pills - amphetamines - Kahus had taken before were nothing like this stuff.

"This is really cool," she recalls thinking. "I thought, 'I can do this
every day and stay skinny.' "

Before long, Kahus was hooked on methamphetamine, a powerfully addictive
illegal stimulant that counts loss of appetite among its many devastating
side effects.

Appearances, though, can be deceiving. The mirror lied. Kahus was willowy,
no doubt. But after 4 1/2 years of snorting methamphetamine, she didn't
recognize herself. Who was this person?

"When you do the meth there's no working at it. You don't have to diet. You
don't have to exercise. You stay skinny," she said. "But you lose your mind."

Methamphetamine use isn't immediately thought of as a means for women to
control their weight. It's predominantly a white blue-collar man's drug.
Fifty-seven percent of users in Utah are male and 92 percent are Caucasian,
according to the state Division of Substance Abuse.

The cheap, mood-altering drug is cooked in clandestine laboratories using
relatively inexpensive, easily obtainable ingredients. Smoking or injecting
"ice" or "crank," as it's called, produces a rush. Snorting or orally
ingesting "chalk" or "speed" produces a long-lasting high.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse reports that a number of more diverse
groups, including gay men, young adults who go to private clubs and
homeless or runaway teenagers are using the substance.

In Utah, where methamphetamine is the third most prevalent drug, anecdotal
evidence suggests use among women to control weight is on the upswing, said
B.J. VanRoosendaal, substance abuse division spokeswoman. The state has not
conducted research to bolster the perception.

Still, she said the division is planning a multimedia anti-drug campaign
for this fall and winter with radio and TV spots aimed specifically at women.

Counselors in Salt Lake Valley treatment centers do frequently see women
who turned to meth to stay thin or shed unwanted pounds, though that may
not be the only reason.

"We hear that a lot," said Bruce Jacobson, director of Cornerstone
Counseling Center's adult substance abuse treatment program. "It's very,
very common to use not only meth but other stimulants for weight control;
from cocaine to over-the-counter drugs to meth itself."

Most women who abuse those kinds of drugs are not overweight, he said. Some
have problems such as eating disorders. Others use several substances to
suppress their appetites.

Carla Trentelman, program director of the Women's Recovery Center in
Clearfield, said some women she sees had never taken drugs before meth, and
they did it to look trim. Single-digit dress sizes - to the point of being
unhealthy - aren't unusual, she said.

"They all refer to (it as) the 'Jenny Crank' program," she said.

Though trimming down might be among the initial reasons some women take
methamphetamine, Jacobson said, it quickly gets lost in the abyss of

"It grabs you so bad that you don't even realize you're just doing it
because you like it after awhile," Kahus said. "It's the closest thing to
having something evil take control of you."

Most of the women she knew who took meth - women in their 30s - did so in
part because it kept them skinny, she said.

Kahus, 46, wasn't a novice drug user when she started snorting lines or
"tweaking" in the summer of 1995. She has tried nearly everything. She was
always on something from the time she was 18 years old. If it wasn't
alcohol it was amphetamines or allergy medication or even vitamins. But
Kahus never wanted to do anything that "was going to consume too many brain

Methamphetamine was something different. It swallowed her. She'd do
anything to get it. She found herself thinking about getting high every
waking minute. She dreamed about it. She found herself in "scary" and
"insane" places just to score a hit.

A divorced mother of two grown children, Kahus' only qualification for a
new boyfriend was that he be a user, too.

In addition to a decreased appetite, other side effects crept into her
life. She became compulsive. If one pair of new boots was good, four or
five were better. She had no ability to emote, to feel for others. She
forgot long-known names and telephone numbers. She became paranoid. She
constantly felt like someone was going to rip her off or worse, steal her
drugs. She lost her job, house and car. Some of her teeth went rotten.

In short, Kahus said, "you forget to be a person."

Kahus, though, somehow rediscovered herself. During a visit to family in
her native Oklahoma earlier this year she didn't take any meth. The planned
two-week stay stretched to four drug-free months. She checked into an
outpatient treatment center when she arrived back in Utah.

Tammy Dusoe, Kahus substance abuse counselor, said Kahus was basically a
mess when she met her in July - disheveled, scared, sick and 30 pounds
lighter than she is now. Kahus completed the rehab program. She attends
Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous. She has been clean for seven

"She's a little miracle," Dusoe said.

A broad smile and a quick laugh suggest Kahus is a healthy, happy person.
She wears a still-trim size 9 dress now, and isn't bugged about it. A
friend provided her a job as a nanny. She aspires to use some college
education in social work to become a drug treatment counselor herself.

"I feel like a survivor," Kahus said. "I feel like I survived something
that almost consumed me, like hanging off the side of a cliff."

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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake