To those who deal firsthand with addiction, meth is the horror-movie monster drug that eats its victims alive.
You think youve seen the worst thing that drugs can do to somebody, and then in a week, youll see another case thats horrifying in what its done to a person physically, but just as horrifying is the impact on them spiritually, said Paul Morris, 57, the Muscogee County Jails health services administrator.
Ted Bobe understands. It took the Alabama tile setter nine years from the time he first tried crystal meth in 2001 until 2008 to hit rock bottom, with hard bounces all the way down.
It destroyed my marriage. It destroyed my family, said Bobe, now 49. I had a real successful tile business I was making about $150,000 a year. I lost that. I lost my house, cars, boat, Jet Ski, tools. I lost everything.
Most of his income, when he had any, went to meth. When he was working, he did meth five to six times a day. It was nothing for me to go to work with five or six shots already made up in my sock every day go out to one of those portable toilets, do a shot and go back to work.
When he was off on weekends, he did meth nonstop. Ill be honest with you, it was nothing for me to buy a box of 100 syringes and them be gone by the end of the weekend, he said. I have long, what seem like cat scratches all up and down my arms, scars from the thousands and thousands of needle shots. I weighed 129 pounds. Im 5-foot-9 1/2. Now I weigh 190.
Today Ted Bobe is clean, and has his life back. For that he thanks God every day, he said, because hes lucky to be alive at all.
Spiritually seems the only adverb that fits what Morris has seen happen to inmates burned out on meth, said the jail medical director. It would be too simple to say intellectually and emotionally.
Meth is a soul-stealer. It seems to really change the nature of the ethical compass, he said. It can take a strong and brave person, and turn them into a coward. Thats the horrifying thing.
One of the more striking effects of that and one that gets little attention until authorities find a baby in a meth lab, as they did recently in a trailer in Russell County is the effect on child neglect.
Estimates of meths cost to society sometimes include such stats. Jim Langford of the Georgia Meth Project notes that meth is now involved in at least half of the cases of spousal abuse and 42 percent of child-endangerment cases. A judge in Gordon County, Ga., told him meth was a factor in all of that areas cases of criminal child deprivation. In Bartow County, he was told the drug was involved in 91 percent of the cases in which children wound up in foster care.
It seemed the addicts obsession with making or buying and using more meth outweighed all other aspects of life, becoming a more valuable pursuit than child care.
Morris has seen TV nature shows depicting whales and elephants doing anything to keep their offspring alive. That humans using meth would leave their children unfed and neglected in a poisonous atmosphere seemed to make them less than animals, he said. That is the fundamental twisting of their moral compass, the effect on them spiritually, that hes describing.
Also fitting meths horror-film image is its physical effect on longtime users.
Morris sees that, too.
Rapid and pronounced weight loss, he began when asked to describe a users spiraling health decline. The body begins to eat itself. You see that they lose all of the subcutaneous fat storage, and pretty soon it appears as though the body is feeding on its muscle.
Then comes the zombie-like visage.
Theres a phenomenon thats hard to explain, but the body seems to stop nourishing the skin, the hair, Morris said.
The corrosive chemicals in the drug eat away at the teeth.
It attacks directly the enamel of the teeth, the tongue, the gums, he said. Youll see sores, abscesses, ulcers on the gums. It just absolutely destroys the teeth. In probably 18 to 24 months, people lose the vast majority particularly of the teeth in the front.
Bobe, the tile setter, can attest to that. My top ones are completely gone to the gums, and my bottom ones are starting to fall out, he said. Hes saving up now to get the $4,000 he needs to get his remaining teeth pulled and buy dentures.
Morris said the morphing from health to horror is most startling when it involves the young.
We see young people who had been healthy when we first met them, Morris said. In fact I know a young girl who in a period of probably four years, that I can recall, lost all of her teeth. She had been a young, vigorous girl when we first met her, and between the age of 18 and 22 or 23 years old, she lost all of her teeth.
What makes meth such a monster of a drug?
The flood of the pleasure-causing chemical dopamine that it releases in the brain, in many cases causing a sort of superhuman euphoria that can last from six to 24 hours. But it cant be reproduced to that same degree because continued use warps dopamine receptors and depletes the brains supply.
Meth changes the nature of the dopamine receptors in the brain, Morris said.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that meth boosts the dopamine level to 10 times that caused by normal pleasures such as eating delicious food or having sex. But as it releases that dopamine through the synapse connecting neurons in the brains pleasure center, it blocks the receptors that otherwise would allow the dopamine to recycle. The result is not only a long-lasting rush of euphoria, but the depletion of dopamine.
Researchers say long-term users continually strive to regain that intense high they got the first time they used the drug, and that leads to using more and more meth in a futile effort. This repeated use can lead to their staying awake for days, until they exhaust their energy and crash.
Thats why authorities warn that one of the more pronounced signs that a friend or relative is headed for a meth-induced burnout is a nonexistent sleep pattern.
Pain and suffering
Bobe intimately knows the physical effects of methamphetamine addiction.
I had all the problems with the staph infections and such that people get from the meth and shooting up, he said. I had all the horrible, painful cycle of sores and stuff like that. I think in one year, I had 14 places lanced because of the drugs.
Twice he almost died. On a binge he once stayed awake eight days, got thirsty and went out to get a drink. He was sitting in his truck, in the summer, with his windows rolled up, and passed out. When he came to, he couldnt move. He was like that for two hours, he thinks, until he finally regained his motion and got out of the overheated truck.
The next time he had been awake for four days straight. I hadnt drunk or eaten anything, and when I finally stopped doing the dope, I decided it was time to eat, and the only thing I had was popcorn, he recalled. I ate a whole bunch of popcorn and didnt drink anything. The popcorn kernels got caught in my large intestine and caused a sore, which I thought was a stomach ache, and by the time I got to the hospital, I had a ruptured colon, and almost died.
At his peak usage, he was spending between $1,500 to $2,000 on meth and about $180 a week on a cheap motel room. He bought some food, too, but that wasnt a priority.
For about five years I lived in a motel room, he said. Ive dug in garbage cans to get food. Ive dug in garbage cans to get clothing, anything I could sell at a flea market to make money either to buy food or more drugs. It was nothing for me to ride by the smoking areas at Walmart just to collect cigarette butts so Id have cigarettes for the day.
Still he had not yet bottomed out. That came later, in the summer of 2008, after his intestine ruptured. He was renting a trailer then.
I woke up one day, and the motor in my car blew up. I went inside, and about 30 minutes later, they came out and turned the power off.
He left for an hour, and when he got back, an eviction notice was on his door.
Then I called my boss to complain about why I wasnt at work, and he said, Well, you dont have a job either.
All he had left was his addiction: So I sat there, and said a prayer to God.
After praying, Bobe called back his boss, a Christian man, and asked for help. Turn your life over to God, and go into rehab, his boss told him, and Bobe did.
He started going to church, and got into a yearlong recovery program. He tried to reconnect with his family, and found out his estranged wife was dead, as were his mother and father. Theyd been dead for months. About the only family Bobe had left was a son, who hadnt spoken to him in 10 years.
It was hard news to take, but Bobe didnt let it turn him back.
He dried out. He focused on his work and his newfound faith. He found new friends.
Drying out from the drugs is not the big part of it. The big part is retraining your life, your thinking, your actions. Thats what I work on every day, he said. Youve got to eliminate all your friends who do drugs.
Morris echoed that: The Muscogee County Jail gets addicts into treatment while theyre incarcerated, but the ones who dont find new friends and a fresh purpose in life dont make it. If they go back to peers who do drugs, if they dont find some meaning to their lives, they relapse and wind up back in jail.
Today Bobe and his son are close again, so close theyre next-door neighbors. We got reunited about a year ago, he said. Were on great terms.
Besides his son, his work and his faith, Bobe devotes himself to telling others his story, to save them from what he endured.
And he fights the temptation to turn back.
I have rough days sometimes, and the thought will come into my mind, and Ill say a prayer, and I think of all the things Ive been through. I dont want to go back to that, and Im not going to go back to that, he said.