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Faces of meth

How three men are fighting the little white powder

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In June, his mother finally convinced him to go back to Talbott. In rehab, he felt like he was coming out of his skin. In December, he was allowed to leave for Christmas week. By then, he had made it to Talbott's three-quarters house, the final segment of inpatient treatment during which a patient leaves for work but must sleep at the facility.

Even though their relationship had fizzled, Britt and Mark maintained their friendship. On Christmas, Britt and his parents went to Mark's Midtown condo. Five years earlier, Britt realized his parents finally had accepted he was gay. During his and Mark's visits, his mother had stopped making up the guest bed; he and Mark could sleep in his old room.

While his parents and Mark chatted, Britt excused himself to go to the bathroom. He went upstairs and rummaged through Mark's dresser. He found a pipe and some meth. He was so excited his hands shook. He took a hit - and for the next seven days holed up in his own Midtown condo, doing any drug he could get his hands on.

When he returned to the treatment center, he failed a drug test. The staff tried to help him for a couple of months, but discharged him in May 2001.

Three months later, Britt started hallucinating. He was taking an antidepressant that the recovery center had prescribed for his depression. Combined with other drugs, it can cause hallucinations.

Britt continued using meth, but this time it was different. He acted out sexually in seedy bathhouses and spent nights at the sleazy Cheshire Bridge Motor Inn. He started seeing shadows in his periphery. He thought people were after him, that his family had conspired against him. He heard voices. He thought the treatment center had bugged him. The voices sounded like counselors asking him questions about good vs. evil and why he had been put on Earth. The voices told him to leave Atlanta and drive to Augusta.

During his drive, the voices told him he was the star of a reality TV show called "Britt Is Missing." He tried to escape from the television cameras. He couldn't. He stopped at Parliament House, a gay club in Augusta, to try to drown the voices. But they got louder. He high-tailed it out of there, crying and shaking. The voices wouldn't stop. He smoked meth as he drove down a two-lane country road. The voices told him to drive off the road, because the curtains were going to open any minute. His fans were standing around, waiting to cheer for him.

He saw the trees lining the street. The voices told him they would open for his curtain call. He veered off the road. The trees didn't move.

 

By July 1, Brian's office phone was ringing off the hook. The flyers posted around town had worked. Brian's research team had completed 35 interviews with a broader range of participants. By the end of the year, Brian is hoping to interview 30 more people abstaining from meth - then switch gears and begin interviewing active users. "We want to get their perceptions of what it means to be abstinent, what it means to use, and what keeps them from being able to stop," he says.

That might offer insight as to how rehab facilities can better treat meth addiction. But to bring active users into the study, Brian needs funding. In late June, he resubmitted his proposal for the NIH grant he didn't receive a year earlier. Brian believes he's polished the study's focus. He will receive a verdict in early 2006.

When Brian listens to his interviewees talk about the draw of meth, he often thinks of his brother. He remembers the time after his high school graduation when he and some friends drove to the beach to celebrate. He was relaxing on the sand when his brother appeared out of nowhere, completely fucked up. Brian was embarrassed. His family had always done a good job of shielding others from his brother's behavior. But here he was, standing in front of Brian, high on drugs, rambling. Perhaps he didn't know where to turn.

Brian doesn't beat himself up for not doing more. His brother's disease gave him compassion and understanding - and the ability to teach the importance of empathy in counseling addicts.

"I often wonder what would've happened if he'd been able to reach his potential," Brian says. "He had a very bright future, if he could've just dealt with his disease."

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