Spokane’s new drug of choice keeps you awake, feeling powerful and alert for days. It even helps you lose weight.
Possible side effects: You lose your job. You turn schizophrenic. You get violent. You die.
“People can say they can handle it,” says Eric Evenson, who’s in the Spokane County Jail on drug and assault charges, “but sooner or later it destroys you. … It’s an uncontrollable drug.”
Crank. Methamphetamine. Speed. Meth.
It’s all one and the same powerful stimulant that is getting swallowed, smoked, snorted and injected like never before in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene.
Meth appeals to frugal drug shoppers and teenagers who can’t afford crack cocaine. A quarter gram provides at least two eight-hour highs for just $25.
It’s also popular with people coming off heroin, women trying to lose weight or others just trying to stay awake to work or party.
The drug is such a simple concoction of acids and solvents that junior high chemists can make meth in their bathtubs if they can stand a smell so jarring it reminds some of potent cat urine.
Meth is the new menace for Spokane police. Only three people were arrested for meth in all of 1992. Last year, police formed a special task force to combat the drug’s sudden popularity and made 305 arrests.
Authorities blame big meth dealers who moved here from bigger cities a few years ago to open a new, lucrative market.
They quickly built a loyal clientele. But unlike the story with crack, Spokane’s meth explosion is being fanned by a wave of home-grown drug labs.
The same phenomenon is hitting North Idaho. Meth busts accounted for more than 40 percent of the arrests made by the Kootenai County Task Force in 1995.
“It’s as if someone hovered over this area in a helicopter and just sprinkled it,” says Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas. “It’s here in large quantities.”
Douglas says the county’s two attempted murder cases in the last six weeks are related to meth. “It is one of the greatest seeds of destruction I’ve seen in my over 20 years as a prosecutor. It’s an insidious poison.”
Crank is so interwoven with assaults and murders that attorneys are launching meth defenses - claiming their clients weren’t themselves when they broke laws while under the drug’s influence.
Evenson, 27, says meth turned him into a monster.
He started snorting the drug three years ago, he says, and dealt enough to keep himself high. He snorted it because he was always on the move, he says, and didn’t have time to smoke it.
Evenson describes the high as intense and energizing with an edgy moodiness that intensified the longer he stayed awake.
He’d often stay up five days in a row, and toward the end of the binge, he’d get in random fistfights, or end up in reckless sexual adventures that left him fearing AIDS.
The longest he ever went without sleep, he says, was 12 days. “By the end of it I couldn’t even look at myself. Things were melting. I was having delusions, hallucinations. Nothing seemed real. I felt like I was a cartoon character.”
After a string of meth busts, he was charged last year with assaulting his former fiance while on the drug.
“It’s amazing,” says Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor John Grasso. “It seems every new case I have now is a meth case.”
Grasso says meth appeals to many people who normally don’t get busted for drugs, including people working late or long hours and women who see the drug as a diet program.
Pat Stiley, a defense attorney who specializes in drug cases, calls meth use a Spokane “epidemic.”
“I’ve talked to these kids that have been up for three weeks straight. They don’t miss a thing. They don’t miss a single party. They don’t miss a night to go dancing. … But for godsakes when they run out - they’re not only hooked but they’ve done some serious damage.”
Stiley says most meth offenders can’t afford a lawyer. “I tend to get people who still own cars and houses, who may even have marriages intact. People that fall into the clutches of crank” lose everything by the time they get busted.
University of Washington pharmacology professor Lawrence Helpren recently flew to Spokane to testify in an assault case in which he explained how crank makes people crazy. The woman wasn’t herself at the time she committed the crime, he argued.
“People become schizophrenic when they use it for extended periods of time,” he says, noting consumption of the drug is considered the best way to induce schizoprhenia.
“Ordinarily if you pull out a gun and shoot somebody, it was you that did it,” he says. “But if you’re taking a drug that drives you out of your mind, then who is it that pulled out the gun and shot him?”
In smaller doses, meth is simply a stimulant to the central nervous system, sometimes used for depression. At higher and continuous doses, Helpren says, crank can trigger high blood pressure, damage the heart and even stop it cold.
“In the ‘60s the popular saying was ‘speed kills,”’ he says. “Now there’s nobody out there warning the young people anymore.”
Lynn Everson, outreach worker for the Spokane County Health District, says she’s sees crank addicts as young as 14 years old on the streets.
“Two or three years ago, crank was unheard of down here,” she says from her office on West First Avenue. Now crank addicts are almost as common as the heroin and crack users who exchange needles at her office.
Spokane Police Sgt. Mike Yates says it’s often easy to spot meth users. They can look agitated, paranoid, gaunt - “like a Mexican jumping bean,” Yates says.
He says meth labs are dangerous, but simple to set up. Many of the ingredients needed to manufacture meth can be bought in drug and grocery stores, such as Red Devil drain cleaner and fingernail polish.
Meth recipes are easily obtained on the street. It can take about 36 hours to cook a batch, a process so toxic “cookers” often wear goggles.
“The chemicals used are highly volatile and extremely carcinogenic,” Yates says, noting exposure to the toxic chemicals seems to age people. “The cookers I know or have seen, they might be 24, but they look like they’re 50.’
Operation Circle, a Spokane police task force organized to break a major meth ring, busted more than 70 people last year.
More recently, police found methamphetamine when they raided the Hells Angels Spokane clubhouse, and uncovered a meth lab at an in-home family day care in the Spokane Valley.
But Yates says most of the meth on the streets is made outside the area, its biggest peddlers and promoters tend to be motorcycle gangs.
He doesn’t think the meth craze has peaked.
“I think it’s going to continue,” he says. “It becomes available. People try it. They like it, and they get hooked on it.”
From Evenson’s vantage, meth is a huge wrecking ball crushing lives and families throughout the county.
“Everybody I’ve ever known that had a job on it has lost it,” says the Riverside High School graduate who dropped 30 pounds while taking the drug.
“I’ve seen a lot of my friends destroyed by it,” he says. “Anybody who delves into it will end up in the gutter. … It turned me into a monster.”
Awaiting sentencing on an assault and meth charges, Evenson says he’s been clean for five months.
“I lost my folks and all those people when I was doing the meth,” he explains. “I’m slowly trying to heal the wounds I inflicted.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Epidemic of meth
The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Jim Lynch Staff writer Staff writer Winda Benedetti contributed to this report.