Photo by Tailyr Irvine | Authorities report that meth use is as high as they have ever seen it.

Meth is the most addictive drug according to Tammera Nauts, executive director of Recovery Center Missoula rehab facility.

“People think that addiction is a choice, it’s a brain disease,” Nauts said.


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The Good Daughter

Mandy Umphrey with her hand over her face
Photo by Tailyr Irvine | Mandy couldn’t avoid meth as a child since her mother was a dealer.

Mandy looked out her window and saw eight police cars. She opened the door and the police cuffed her. They scoured the house, they found marijuana in her room. But they found what they were looking for in her mother’s room — a pound of meth.

Her mother was taken to county jail for three months. She was charged with possession of meth with the intent to sell. Every Sunday Mandy would visit her. She wanted her to get clean. She was going to help her get and stay sober. Her mother was sent to a rehab center in Billings. After treatment, her mother returned to their home in Pablo. The two were close for that year of sobriety.

Mandy’s mother was introduced to meth through a friend. Mandy thinks her mother continued to do it to fight her depression and physical pain she was going through.

Her mother started selling meth to pay the bills.

Mandy was kept in the dark for most of her mother’s meth use, but money was no longer an issue. Then she walked in and found meth sitting there. This caused a rift between her and her mother.

After finding out, her mother became more public in her use and her behavior became more extreme.

When high her mother would slam her head into the walls. She would try and hurt herself.

Mandy had become the parent.

“I made sure she was okay,” Mandy said. “I would take her to bed. I would take care of her.”

She grew so desperate to connect with the mother she was losing Mandy made a fateful decision, she decided to connect with her mother by using meth. Finally, she thought they would have something in common.

Inside her mother’s room they started to crush the meth with a razor. She snorted it. An immediate jolt followed.

Her joints ached. She plucked her eyebrows. Her tongue felt like sandpaper. When she would smoke it she could taste the chemicals in it. It smelt like burning hair. Mandy knew that this wasn’t her.

After a month of using she chose to stop. Mandy saw herself as someone with a career, with a life. When she decided to quit her mother was supportive.

“Good. I didn’t like you doing it anyway,” her mother said.

Mandy thinks people do drugs to fill a void. It’s more nuanced than we think. People do it to forget about the pain. People do it to fit in. They can do it to mend broken bonds.

After a year of sobriety, her mother returned to meth. She is once again getting treatment.

But the rift between them has only grown. Mandy will help her mother as much as she can, but she knows that the only way to overcome the addiction is by choosing it for herself. Her mother has sent her letters, saying that now she can see through clean eyes she can apologize.

“Until you’ve had an addiction you won’t understand it,” Mandy said.

Mandy is still willing to wait for her mom. But she knows her mom needs to take care of herself. She knows you can’t have a relationship with someone without being content with yourself. ■



The Father

Billy
Photo by Tailyr Irvine | Billy says people thinking about using meth need to know, “you’ll lose everything.”

Billy Antoine wasn’t pressured into trying meth. His friends warned him against smoking it with them. But it was available, so he thought he should try it.

Meth was around so much that it was hard to fight the temptation, he remembered. He spent his time with people who were drinking. That crowd evolved into a group who would smoke meth.

The crowd pulls you in.

The first time Billy smoked meth it made him sick. By the third time, he was seeing stars. He was awake for two and a half days. When he started to come down from the high he could feel the sweat coming out of every pore. He felt ants crawling on his skin.

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When Billy was in Pablo he would smoke three times a day. Jumping from one house to the next. Meth was just a way to keep the party going. Some people could go for weeks. Billy could only stay awake for three days.

“I got high because I felt like I would miss out,” Billy said.

Billy thinks the meth use was at its worst in 2013. People in the projects of Pablo were stuck in it. Meth from Washington was coming in, everyone had money for it.

Billy noticed a rise in heroin use in the Pablo area. He said that people high on meth would make fun of them, they would call them the “nod squad” because they would be drifting in and out of consciousness.

Throughout his long-term bender his two children were living with their grandmother. He would visit occasionally. He arrived at his mother’s house and his daughter came up to him and said she missed him. It was enough for him to consider it his lowest point.

He believes, like Mandy, the decision can only be made by the addict. Nobody can stop make the decision except themselves.

This is where the real challenge starts. Dr. Richard Rawson, researcher at UCLA Integrated Substance Abuse Programs, said that the danger of methamphetamine addiction is the relapse.

Rawson said that methamphetamine releases a spike of dopamine – providing sensations of pleasure and satisfaction. With continued use the dopamine system is suppressed, and the number of dopamine receptors reduced. Rawson said recovering meth users often relapse because they seek out the pleasure that meth releases and they no longer can generate on their own.

Rawson said that there is good news, for some after six months of sobriety the brain will release more dopamine again.

Billy has been sober for three months.

“People need to know what they are walking into. You’ll lose everything,” Billy said. “You can’t see anything beautiful. You’ve got to be your own light out of the fog.”

He doesn’t see his old friends as much anymore, he said that his kids are his friends now. He said, you’ve got to find the thing you love before you get addicted, that the best support for getting sober was when his little brother told him that he believed in him to get over the addiction.

“Maybe we should tell each other that more,” Billy said. ■



The Partier

Jarett Hopewell
Photo by Tailyr Irvine | Jarrett was able to turn away from the drug even as many friends could not stop.

When Jarrett Hopewell was alone he started to crash. The extreme euphoria was wearing off and he could feel the depression creeping in.

It was only a couple of hours after his first time with meth.

Jarrett was at a party and play. A party and play is a casual hook up term meaning sex and drugs. Party and play are popular in the gay community, Jarrett said, and the drug of choice is often methamphetamine.

His friend took him to a hotel where they met up with two men. His friend and one of the men were both chronic users of meth.

    River in Glacier National Park

    Photo by Tailyr Irvine

They brought out a pipe to start. It was long and slender with a bowl at the end. They stuck crystals underneath the bowl and had a fire under the bowl. It smelt like burning plastic.

Jarrett said he is spontaneous so he decided to try it. The smoke was smooth when he inhaled. Jarrett felt warm inside after using it. Everything felt euphoric.

According to a 2013 paper by Dr. Jane Maxwell, who works at the Addiction Research Institute of the Center for Social Work Research at the University of Texas, men often use meth for enhanced sexual experience, enhanced mood and euphoria.

Jarrett didn’t sleep that night. He couldn’t because the high kept going. In the morning he called a friend to pick him up. He thought to himself that he would try it again in a month.

“I felt like the addiction was starting. Part of my brain was already craving it,” Jarrett said.

He saw one of the men again after that night. Jarrett said he couldn’t afford his groceries, opting instead to shoot up. The last time Jarrett saw him shoot up he was trying to find a vein he hadn’t used up. He found one in his neck and shot up. He leaned back with his head in his hands. Jarrett thought that he was in pain.

He didn’t say anything, he knew that it wouldn’t make a difference.

“I knew that an acquaintance couldn’t change his mind, only he could change his mind,” Jarrett said.

Jarrett never touched meth again. ■



The Suicide Mission

Close up of hand holding meth rock
Photo by Tailyr Irvine

B was looking for death.

In the midst of a divorce and heartbreak, he was looking for something to take him away from his misery. He started drinking, but soon found himself trying meth for the first time. He was up for three days after that.

The initial blast is something you can never forget, B said. It’s something you chase forever; you’ll never get that feeling again.

They call it chasing the dragon.

B would chase it no matter what it cost him. He chased it for 12 years.

“I was on a suicide mission,” B said. “I didn’t care what happened.”

He used the drug to keep away from his depression. At bottom, he weighed 96 pounds. He had friends pull guns on him. He would beat himself up for using before a drug test at work. When he was angry and high everyone was afraid of him.

With chronic use of meth a person can lose their normal sense of pleasure said Dr. Richard Rawson. Rawson said the addiction is very Pavlovian for chronic users, they know that they will get pleasure as soon as they use again.

B remembers need that pleasure but also remembers how different the meth scene was in the 90s. The drug was coming in from Washington, but there were also many labs around Missoula. He said there was a prolific drug dealer in Missoula they called God. God would create meth that would make your heart feel like it would explode out of your chest. But according to B, the meth in the 90s was nothing compared to the meth created now.

“The stuff that’s coming out now is like snorting the corrosion off of your car battery,” B said.

“According to a 2013 research paper written by Dr. Jane Maxwell, a scientist at the Addiction Research Institute of the Center for Social Work Research at the University of Texas, a large problem with the meth produced recently is because of 1-phenyl-2-propanone (P2P). This drug increases the potency of meth from 64% to 90%.

“It taught me how to hate,” B said.

B eventually left Missoula and lived in Daytona, Fl. He stayed clean but knew he would live in Montana or Colorado. Eventually he came back with his girlfriend, but as soon as he came back he started using again.

There was no grand moment that made him decide to stop. He just knew it was time to stop.

He distanced himself from friends that would use. He relapsed two times. He eventually got sober with the support of his girlfriend, who had become his wife. He’s been clean for 17 years.

There was no grand moment that made him decide to stop. He just knew it was time to stop.

“I just needed to quit,” B said. “I didn’t need death anymore. I found something to live for.”

An arduous part of removing himself from that life was watching old friends die from meth because they couldn’t overcome the addiction.

They haunt him and so does the dragon. Sometimes he still smells meth. The odor of a scented cigarette could set him off. His brain shuts down and the only thing he can do then is go for a walk. ■


Bowen West
Writer/Editor
Bowen is a recent graduate of the University of Montana, where he studied print journalism. He is just like everybody else. Only with piercing eyes and a sense of what's right and wrong.

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