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Faces of meth

How three men are fighting the little white powder

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Britt speaks last. "I knew I needed to make drastic changes in my life. But I wasn't really willing, and it took me a very long time and a lot of consequences. It wasn't going to happen until I wanted it."

 

Crank. Tina. Speed. Ice. Meth. Crystal. It's cheap. It lasts for hours. It's highly addictive. And its use is growing at an alarming rate in Atlanta.That shouldn't come as a surprise.

Law enforcement agencies in Fulton and DeKalb counties describe crystal methamphetamine as one of their biggest problems. Earlier this month, a new Georgia law was signed mandating that cold medicines containing a key ingredient for meth production be placed behind counters to thwart meth labs.

Meth can be made by combining cold medicine, drain cleaners, lye and acetone. You can cook it up in a kitchen pot. It doesn't require a Ph.D. in chemistry. Just practice. Shooting or smoking gives an instantaneous rush. Snorting might burn your nose, but soon enough you'll be numb from the chemicals.

And if you can't make it, it's easy enough to buy. For starters, I-75, I-85 and I-20 intersect in the city, and I-95, which runs from New York to Miami, cuts down the eastern half of the state. That makes transporting mass quantities of meth a cinch. The Drug Policy Information Clearinghouse reports that Mexican drug traffickers have become the primary manufacturers and distributors of meth, producing as much as 10 pounds of ice in 24 hours.

In June alone, 49 suspects - many of them Mexican drug runners - and 16 companies were indicted in Atlanta for supplying meth ingredients. Last year, the Drug Enforcement Agency reported that almost 84 kilograms of meth were seized and 175 meth labs were busted in Georgia.

Compare that to New York's 10 kilograms seized and 53 labs busted last year. Or Florida's 37 kilograms seized and 170 labs busted. Earlier this year, officials seized 79 kilos of meth in Cherokee County alone. It was the largest-ever bust in the East and the 15th largest nationwide.

And that's just the meth that's been caught. The drug is easy to conceal; $100's worth of the white, odorless powder could fit in a thimble. A little goes a long way. A quarter-gram could last a weekend, at least when you first start.

Once you start, it's easy to get hooked. Some researchers think crystal meth is as addictive as nicotine. Almost 9 percent of rehab admissions in metro Atlanta are meth-related, up 5 percent from two years ago. Outside the Perimeter, meth admission rates jump to 16 percent.

And counselors are having a difficult time treating meth addiction. Couple that with the fact that drug addiction itself is the bastard child of the medical community, and it becomes tough to receive funds to study the epidemic.

Whatever the specific circumstances, meth affects the lives of thousands of Atlantans. Just midway through his 20s, Paul already has ended up in the one place he told himself he'd never be. Britt, a former pharmacist, was forced out of his career - and into rehab on four separate occasions. Brian, for whom addiction hit close to home at a young age, now finds himself trying to understand the patterns of meth addiction so he can prevent others from suffering the same fate.

There's no exact intersection of these men's lives; they don't know each other and likely never will. But meth has led them to experience the drug's power to destroy.

 

Paul rolled up a dollar bill, wedged it in his nostril and inhaled the white powder. He didn't know what to expect. He'd never done it before. But he wanted to bond with his fiancée, and he knew she loved the stuff. The rush hit him hard. He instantly felt alive — and abnormally turned on. His fiancée did, too. So did the guy who snorted it with them.Lips locked. Shirts flew off. Paul, his fiancée and a random guy were soon entangled in each other's bodies. "That's pretty much the beginning of the end of a relationship," Paul recalls.

Four years ago, Paul, who lived in Virginia at the time, kept running into the same girl. She was a thin club kid with long brown hair whose cuteness - and seduction on the dancefloor - caught Paul's attention. After a couple weeks, they started dating.

"We were like a single entity on the dancefloor, and it rubbed off in the bedroom," Paul says. "I've never, ever moved with anyone like that, and never have since."

She had problems. But, he rationalized, everyone did. He liked helping others and she was in need. She was struggling with anorexia. Her method of dieting: snorting meth.

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