LEWISTON – Back in the 1970s, streetwise cops Starsky and Hutch busted made-for-TV criminals with the help of a snitch named Huggy Bear.
A quarter century later, Brendan Solberg, son of David Soul, the actor who played Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson, became a real-life criminal, snorting methamphetamine and manufacturing it for Idaho drug gangs.
Solberg, now 23, began using methamphetamine following his move to Post Falls from Hollywood with his mother, he said. She and his father are divorced.
In a March interview with the Lewiston Tribune from the North Idaho Correctional Institution in Cottonwood, Solberg said he lost everything within months of using meth, an illegal stimulant that police across the West say has become their top problem.
“I think that is the devil in the drug,” said Solberg, who spent nine months in the prison after his July 2004 sentencing for an auto-theft conviction. He was released in mid-March.
Some 90 percent of prisoners at the Cottonwood facility are there for drug- or alcohol-related crimes. Solberg said he’s writing a series of articles about methamphetamine with his father, who lives in London, for British media.
Solberg was studying welding at North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene several years ago when his addiction began.
After a particularly grueling Friday filled with tests, he went to his home to relax and have a few drinks.
A friend had some meth and encouraged Solberg to snort some.
“You feel like a whole new person,” Solberg recalled.
Within two days, he said, he was “slamming” it – shooting up with a needle – and within two weeks, he was cooking it in a home laboratory. Solberg said he became known among the region’s addicts for producing a high-quality drug made from red phosphorus rather than using the anhydrous ammonia method common in dirty bathtub laboratories.
A 2002 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study showed 12 million Americans over age 12 have tried meth, which can cause symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease. It is estimated the United States has some 1.5 million meth addicts, representing 8 percent of 19 million drug users.
States including Idaho have blamed meth for rising foster-care costs as children are removed from parents caught making or using the drug.
Solberg’s wife removed their daughter – by filing for divorce.
“When I’m sober, my family is real important to me,” Brendan Solberg said.
At one point, members of a local motorcycle gang approached him with a 12-batch contract, each for at least 5 pounds. After completing nine of the 12, he was arrested, Solberg said.
He was relieved to have found a way out of the contract, he said.
But the group paid his bail, and when he walked out of jail, members of the gang took him to a cabin on Spirit Lake, which was raided within days by drug agents, Solberg said.
He escaped into the nearby woods, living for two days on nothing but half a soft drink, he said.
Solberg was arrested for possession of meth in 2001. The charge was dropped, but it scared him enough to play it straight.
However, when a friend and fellow recovering addict began using meth again, Solberg joined him.
“I did it once, and it was over,” said Solberg, whose 6-foot-4-inch, 215-pound frame withered to 165 pounds during his addiction.
To manufacture the drug, he began stealing ingredients, including pseudoephedrine, from drugstores, he said.
Earlier this year, U.S. retailers Wal-Mart, Albertsons and Target announced plans to prevent such thefts by moving cold medicines with some forms of pseudoephedrine behind pharmacy counters.
By June 2004, Solberg said, he had reached rock bottom.
He was back to cooking meth for the gang and selling it on the side, using the barter system.
Users, desperate for their next fix, would give Solberg their cars, their jewelry, anything to get a few ounces of meth, he said.
He was arrested for grand theft while driving one of the bartered cars. The user had promised it was clean, Solberg said.
“I asked this guy for help,” Solberg said. “I told him the cops were after me. Well, he was a cop.”
Since then, Solberg has completed a program to help recovering addicts at the Cottonwood prison. He says he feels ready to face the world.