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Faces of meth

How three men are fighting the little white powder

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"She traded one problem for another," he says.

Paul, who was 22 at the time, proposed after dating her for a year. She said yes.

She was a source of solace for him. It was the first time in his life he felt close to someone. As a child, he'd spent nights trying to fall asleep to the sounds of his mother screaming as his drunken father dragged her through the hall by her hair.

In her, he finally had someone - someone he could take on cruises and pamper with ostentatious jewelry, someone who would love him and take care of him in return.

Or so he thought.

In the two months following their threesome, Paul and his fiancée rarely touched in bed. She often turned her back to him before falling asleep.

Shortly thereafter, she broke off the engagement.

 

Britt knew what he had to do. He'd just lost his pharmacy license and his job at a drug store in Alabama. He'd been caught stealing opiates. It had worked for about a year. But he knew it was bad. So he voluntarily enrolled in rehab.For years, Britt had been dabbling in prescription pills, Ecstasy and cocaine. But Tina was different. He liked the way it made him feel. Alive and invisible. It helped him forget that he was different, and that different was bad. He didn't feel empty and lonely, unwanted and uncared for. He didn't have to think about his parents.

When Britt was 18, his mother and father opened his mail and found a letter from a friend. The note described the boy's feelings for their son. They confronted Britt. He confirmed what the shrink the family had hired 10 years earlier had suspected: Britt was gay. His parents pulled out the Bible. They made Britt read Scripture that said the way he felt was a crime against God: "Though shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: It is abomination."

Over the years, his parents had argued a lot. They tried to keep it from him, but it was hard not to hear the shouts and slamming doors late at night. Later he found out why. They blamed each other for making him a sissy.

Britt's parents forced him to fish and hunt. They took him to an endocrinologist who prescribed anabolic steroids. They wanted him to be bigger and stronger. People picked on him at school and called him a fag. But he couldn't run home and tell Mom and Dad. He was an outcast in the conservative, South Georgia town of Moultrie.

He had nowhere to turn. Drugs were an outlet - an escape route that opened tenfold when he went to pharmacy school in Birmingham. Soon, however, he took it too far.

So he surrendered to rehab. Perhaps he'd be able to address his past to combat his current problem.

But he wasn't ready. Britt told the rehab counselors what they wanted to hear. He told them he yearned to get clean. But his thoughts and actions didn't sync with what came out of his mouth. During group therapy sessions, Britt's thoughts wandered. He'd think about ways to obtain drugs and who he'd contact the minute he was out of rehab. He thought the counselors' suggestions - attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings, get a sponsor to help you stay clean - were stupid. Who were they telling him what to do?

After 30 days of rehab, he was released. The day he got out he used Ecstasy.

 

It was the day before Mother's Day, 1991, when Brian got the message. He was shooting hoops with some church friends in North Carolina when a sharp pain shot through his stomach. It was a random ache. He'd been feeling fine all day. But the pain didn't stop, so he left the basketball game and went home.When he walked inside, he saw the answering machine light blinking. He pressed the button and heard his brother's girlfriend's voice. She sounded scared. Her voice shook. Brian picked up the phone to dial her number.

What she said shocked him. He couldn't move, couldn't talk, couldn't cry. He tried all night to reach his parents, who were vacationing in Florida, and finally reached them the next day. After he wished his mother a Happy Mother's Day, he told her the news: His brother had shot himself.

After the funeral, Brian, who was 23 at the time, began devouring books about addiction. He wanted to understand why his brother lost the fight to something that seemed so simple: Use or don't use. How was it that something so small could consume a 25-year-old budding artist with so much promise?

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