June 16, 1996 in Nation/World

Meth Turning Kids Into Monsters They’re Driven By Need For Drug Money And Pumped Up With Sense Of Power

Gita Sitaramiah Staff writer
 

FROM FOR THE RECORD (Wednesday, June 19, 1996): Lynn Everson is a Spokane County Health District AIDS outreach worker. A Sunday article listed her title incorrectly.

Mike would snort the powder, then commit crimes he couldn’t have imagined before.

He broke into cars and garages. With some buddies, he stole and stripped a Toyota pickup before getting caught earlier this year.

“You feel powerful,” the 18-year-old says of why he used methamphetamine. “I did things that I wouldn’t normally do, that I wouldn’t do now.”

As methamphetamine use explodes throughout the Inland Northwest and the nation, experts say more and more teenagers are experimenting with the drug. The drug casts a frightening shadow over Spokane and Kootenai counties. It is linked to a growing list of brutal killings.

Methamphetamine is a national problem, says Bill Hardin, a Spokane Drug Enforcement Administration agent. “It’s appealing to young kids.”

One Spokane County official says half the youths passing through the juvenile detention center have used the drug.

Methamphetamine - also called crank, crystal and speed - is cheap: about $20 for a quarter-gram, enough to stay high for two to three days. It’s easy to make.

Teenage users get their crank at school. Or they get it from friends and street-corner dealers. Or they steal the illicit drug from their own parents.

They turn to the drug for many reasons. Boys often start using meth because it makes them feel powerful, or they think it gives them an edge in sports. Girls may use it to shed weight. For both sexes, the drug is held in awe as a wellspring of instant, artificial energy. One snort and the user is capable of staying “up” for hours.

In Spokane, police started new efforts to target users and dealers. A special task force that formed last year arrested 305 adults. Compare that to three methamphetamine arrests in all of 1992.

“Crank has got us concerned because the people using it are awfully unpredictable,” Spokane County Sheriff’s Sgt. George Wigen says.

Juvenile justice officials see more and more meth-abusing youths.

“About a third of kids who come into detention admit to using some form of speed,” says Tom Davis, a juvenile detention program coordinator.

If one-third admit using the drug, Davis reasons, probably 50 percent in juvenile detention have tried it. “Usually, they’re an extreme of what’s happening in the teenage population,” he says.

Sandra J. Smith, a juvenile detention counselor, says she’s amazed at how easy it is to get meth. “It’s incredible. They get it in the parking lots of schools,” she says.

Spokane attorney Jim Barlow sees the heartbreak of meth addiction in the faces of teenage parents he represents in court. Many lost custody of their children due to concerns of abuse or neglect.

“It seems like there are more and more cases involving that particular drug,” Barlow says.

The stories of kids hooked on meth echo familiar themes.

The kids usually have experimented with other drugs before meth. Once they start, the drug quickly becomes a daily habit.

Mike, a Cheney High School senior, says he snorted and smoked “crystal meth” for six months. Two or three times a day, he’d hide in a bathroom stall at school and get high.

“That drug is easy to use in school,” Mike says. “It’s a new fad drug. It’s everywhere.”

The other drugs Mike tried - marijuana, mushrooms, acid - never took control the way meth did.

Mike and the other teens interviewed for this story didn’t want their full names used.

Mike’s parents, both nurses, told him to straighten up or leave their house. He picked treatment.

Even though he’s finishing school on time with a B average, only down slightly from his pre-meth days, the drug will haunt him for months to come.

He’s cut his long, blond hair short for court appearances on theft charges. He expects to serve time in jail and he blames meth.

“It took me downhill a lot faster than anything else,” he says.

Nicholas tells a crank horror story to Inland Northwest junior high students.

It’s his own story. He was a Coeur d’Alene student-athlete who snorted crank to run faster.

Crank wound up running him.

The drug got him expelled from Lake City High School after he skipped too many classes during his sophomore year. He turned into a runaway and a law-breaking fugitive.

“I was just a full-blown addict,” says Nicholas, now 18. “I didn’t care about anybody, just about myself and my drugs.”

His parents don’t understand how he became a delinquent.

“They’re baffled. They wonder what happened to the good son they had,” Nicholas says.

In the time he used meth, the drug became the leader and he became the follower. “It’s like a god to most users,” he says. “They do whatever they can to get it.”

Nicholas was weaned off crank while serving time in juvenile detention for dealing and using drugs.

“I regret everything I’ve done, or at least what I can remember that I’ve done,” he says.

A 17-year-old Spokane teen says he got his first taste of speed a few years ago by crushing and snorting his younger brother’s Ritalin, prescribed for hyperactivity.

“It’s prescription speed,” says the youth, who has since undergone treatment. “It does the exact same thing.”

Soon, he graduated to meth.

Typically, teen meth users start with other drugs first.

“Still, the drugs of choice are alcohol and marijuana and to some degree, LSD,” says Dick Silk, a family and chemical dependency counselor.

Public school administrators agree.

“(Meth) is out there,” says Joe Madsen, a Spokane School District official. “It’s not showing up with the frequency of other drugs like alcohol and marijuana.”

Lynn Everson, a public health nurse, says children sometimes adopt their parents’ drug habits. With the rising popularity of meth, she fears children will become its next victims.

Already, she says meth is popular with street kids because it’s so cheap and available. “A lot of these kids, even when they’re not high, can’t function,” she says. “Some can barely survive.”

In the beginning, the drug may cause the opposite effect.

“This is a drug of productivity,” Everson says. “For a certain period of time, people can maintain.”

Everson says she fears the moment the drug produces devastating side-effects, including extreme paranoia and violence.

With the popularity of crack cocaine, speed nearly faded away as a drug of choice, says Silk. “Then, people realized speed could keep you high longer,” he says.

For teens with eating disorders, the drug has a special allure.

“Girls love it because they lose weight,” says Kathleen McDade, a chemical dependency counselor at Deaconess Medical Center. “Women are judged by how skinny they are.”

A 19-year-old Spokane man, who began using meth at 16, says he now injects the drug almost daily. “When you shoot it up, it feels really different,” he says. “It doesn’t even feel like the same drug.”

He tried most hard-core drugs, such as cocaine, LSD and heroin, before a younger relative introduced him to meth. “I went through all that,” he says. “This is where I ended up.”

Both he and his girlfriend hold jobs. They hide their drug use by forcing themselves to eat and sleep. She makes sure to eat well, so her thin frame won’t become so frail that someone might suspect a problem.

“We don’t look like typical junkies,” he says.

His girlfriend adds: “It’s exactly why we get away with it.”

They fear other teens might not be able to handle the drug, which they use as entertainment.

“There’s nothing to do, especially if you’re under 21,” he says. “It’s just an automatic cure for boredom.”

Some experts say meth abuse is also a slippery slope to financial ruin, prison or death.

“Some of them, there’s no coming back,” Silk says. “If not dead, they could be so freaked out by drug use that they’ve lost touch with what’s normal.”

Getting caught by cops saved Nicholas.

On July 14, 1995, he stopped at a store to buy cigarettes when drug investigators who were looking for him threw him against his car. “They had guns and that scared the hell out of me,” he says.

They seized meth, LSD and marijuana from his car.

His first week in juvenile detention, Nicholas slept most of the time. The next week, he vomited and experienced the shakes as he went through withdrawal. Finally, he began to feel better. For the first time in months, he was sober.

About five months after he was jailed, he was sentenced. He went to a state juvenile institution near Boise for a couple of weeks. Then he spent three more months in juvenile detention, followed by four months in a boys home in Coeur d’Alene.

There, he realized he needed to change.

He moved home and now hopes to attend college, studying culinary arts or broadcasting.

Most of all, Nicholas wants to stay off crank. “I’ve just vowed to myself and my parents that I’d never do it again.”

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Warning signs Methamphetamine can be alluring to teenagers, but alert parents and teachers can fight back. It starts with recognizing the warning signs of meth abuse, drug experts say. Here are some signs that children may be using methamphetamine: A full-figured teenage girl might suddenly become rail-thin while remaining energetic. Teenagers won’t sleep in. Instead, they’ll go days without sleep. “At first, kids have great amounts of energy,” said Sandra J. Smith, a Spokane County juvenile drug and mental health counselor. “Kids will stay up for a week.” They have more money, because they’re also dealing the drug. They begin stealing to get drug money. They become temperamental and aggressive. Teens with a history of using drugs and alcohol are more likely to experiment with crank, experts say. - Gita Sitaramiah

This sidebar appeared with the story: Warning signs Methamphetamine can be alluring to teenagers, but alert parents and teachers can fight back. It starts with recognizing the warning signs of meth abuse, drug experts say. Here are some signs that children may be using methamphetamine: A full-figured teenage girl might suddenly become rail-thin while remaining energetic. Teenagers won’t sleep in. Instead, they’ll go days without sleep. “At first, kids have great amounts of energy,” said Sandra J. Smith, a Spokane County juvenile drug and mental health counselor. “Kids will stay up for a week.” They have more money, because they’re also dealing the drug. They begin stealing to get drug money. They become temperamental and aggressive. Teens with a history of using drugs and alcohol are more likely to experiment with crank, experts say. - Gita Sitaramiah


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