Meth has a way of hijacking a user’s personality, says Attorney General Rob McKenna. The drug is so addictive and causes so much long-term damage that it is best if young people never try it.
McKenna brought this message Wednesday to Olympic High School in his first presentation in Kitsap County. Methamphetamine has become the biggest law enforcement, social welfare and environmental problem in the state, he said, and urged students to partner with the community and look for ways to alleviate the drug use locally.
“We hope to give you information that will persuade you to never ever go near this stuff,” McKenna told the assembled students.
He listed items where the chemicals used for cooking meth are found — batteries, Drano, gasoline, etc. And cooking up the drug itself is cancer-causing.
Meth’s social welfare effects ripple through the child dependency proceedings McKenna’s office handles. There has been a 60 percent increase in foster care cases in the last 10 years, six to 10 times the growth rate of the general population, he said.
It wasn’t the statistics that made the most impression on the students.
“I knew drugs could mess you up, but I didn’t know they could put big holes in your brain just from two years’ (use),” senior Amy Rainwater said.
One of the videos McKenna showed students was an MTV story about a 22-year old ecstasy user, who gradually incurred sleeping problems and paranoia. A CAT scan her doctor ordered showed gaps in her brain in the memory and association areas. Her brain was that of a person in her 60s or 70s who had suffered multiple little strokes.
“Ecstasy is the chemical cousin of methamphetamine,” McKenna told students.
Ecstasy and meth both cause long-term damage to the brain, skin and central nervous system, all in addition to the chemicals’ cancer-causing properties.
There are more female than male users, perhaps because of meth’s weight-loss side effect, McKenna said.
Rainwater and her sister Sasha, a sophomore, had no problem believing that statistic. They said they knew a girl who started using meth three months ago and lost a lot of weight, but looked unhealthy. Now they don’t see their acquaintance at school very often.
After the first of two presentations Amy and Sasha wore “Don’t Meth Around” red rubber bracelets, which McKenna’s assistants distributed.
The sisters were most impressed with the story of Jamie Crawford of Yakima, a 21-year-old recovering meth addict.
Clean and sober for two years, Crawford served three months in a county jail, five months on house arrest and is still serving her five-year probation.
It was the prosecutor of her case who asked Crawford to share her story with various law enforcement groups. Then she started talking to students and OHS marked her fifth school visit with McKenna.
“If you can save the life of one child, it’s worth it to me,” Crawford said. “If someone had done this when I was in high school, it could have made a difference in my story.”
Her story, as she told the students, started when she was 15 and tried meth in the summer before her junior year of high school.
“Before I knew it, my class was graduating and I wasn’t there,” she said.
She barely completed her GED recently and is starting college, she added.
Crawford said when she was 18, she was at a friend’s house with other meth users and a 7-year-old boy. They all witnessed a murder and took off, jumping fences and dragging the child along with them.
She was arrested shortly afterwards.
“I had a good lawyer, so I got a slap on the wrist,” Crawford said.
Within a month, though, she was back using meth.
In a second arrest, in June 2004, Crawford was caught red-handed with 282 pieces of stolen mail and $150,000 in cash and checks.
She had a friend’s 8-month-old baby and 4-year-old child with her. The baby used to cry almost constantly and later Crawford and her friend learned that while they were getting high on meth, the baby was too. It cried during withdrawals.
She never thought becoming a meth addict would happen to her, Crawford said. Sitting through the attorney general’s presentation most students probably thought the same thing, she added.
“Hopefully you learned something from (the presentation) that will help you say no to it,” she told students.
McKenna said he hopes to come back to Kitsap to visit more schools. He has given more than 20 similar presentations throughout the state as part of the “Operation: Allied Against Meth” program McKenna launched in May 2005. A three-part strategy focuses on coordinating law enforcement efforts, working with community anti-meth action groups and educating youth.
“We’re spending a third of our time on the outreach component because it’s such an addictive drug,” McKenna said. “It’s much better for people never to try it.”