Probation officer Greenwell says, “Originally, I thought there was going to be [a typical meth addict], but there’s not. I can’t single out a stereotype of a user. I’ve got them from 18 to 65, good backgrounds, poor backgrounds, there’s no singling it out.”
Det. Taysom agrees. “There’s always the obvious profile. But it’s not always the case. I know people who go to church and are prominent in society who use meth.”
And attorney Angerhofer says he has meth addict clients from all walks of life. “I represent a doctor and a lawyer, so when you lump them together… [with] someone who has never held a job in their life, they never seem to match [your expectations] at all.”
Even with all of the evidence of how awful methamphetamine is, in the short term, it has a powerful pleasure-inducing effect on the user.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), most of the pleasurable effects of methamphetamine are believed to result from the release of high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is involved in motivation, pleasure and motor function.
“The neurotransmitters release dopamine into the system, and then it over clogs the receptor,” Castro says. “After that, all of these chemicals are floating around between the receptor and the transmitters, with nowhere to go, so they get pushed back up into the transmitter that sent them out, and that gives the sensation of being high.”
The elevated release of dopamine is also thought to contribute to the drug’s deleterious effects on nerve terminals in the brain.
“When the neurotransmitter sends out all of these chemicals, it sends out a burst of them, just a ton, all at once, and the receptor can’t catch it all,” she says. “The brain reacts to having made too much, and will not make any more for quite some time. Serotonin is one of those chemicals that make you feel good, feel happy, that the brain will stop producing.
“And so, when the addict isn’t high, even when you think you should be happy, for example, if your kids did well in the school play, you can’t feel happy until you force yourself to feel happy through drug use.”
The short-term effects of pleasure and “happy-ness” are accompanied by increased wakefulness and physical activity, along with decreased appetite.
There are bad short-term effects of meth, too. There can be rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat and increased blood pressure. With an overdose, elevated body temperature, or hyperthermia, and convulsions can occur, and if not treated immediately can result in death.
The long-term effects are where the dangers of methamphetamine really become evident. NIDA describes how addicts develop a tolerance to the pleasurable effects of meth and need to take higher doses, take it more frequently or change how they take it in an effort to continue to get high. Eventually, an addict may have a hard time feeling pleasure in anything except the drug.
Addicts may develop significant anxiety, confusion, insomnia, mood disturbances and violent behavior. They may display psychotic symptoms, such as paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, and delusions.
Castro finds the chemical effects of meth on the brain frequently lead to mental health issues for her clients. “They start to have-meth induced psychosis, they hear things, they’re paranoid, even when they haven’t been using for months. They’re distrustful of almost everything.”
“I had quite a few come through here diagnosed with schizophrenia. A lot of professionals have told me when they find schizophrenia in meth users, it was the meth that caused it because there was nothing there before.”
Psychotic symptoms can sometimes last for months or years after a person has quit using, and stress has been shown to precipitate spontaneous recurrences of methamphetamine psychoses.
But for law enforcement, assuming a person is using meth based on his irrational behavior can be a mistake.
“Yeah, they’ve got a vibe,” says Det. Taysom. “(You think), ‘Man, that person could be on meth.’ But at the same time, it could be a mental condition. I’ve run into that a few times, you think they use meth, they’re showing the signs, but really they’ve had a head injury that’s affected their behavior, something along those lines.”
Meth addicts also develop physical problems. Castro says, “Their teeth are rotting, they have little tics. But even if they don’t develop overt physical symptoms, they still seem jittery, nervous and over confident.
“I have a guy in my group right now, he has perfect teeth, beautiful body, wonderful smile, he looks young for his age, but he’s been doing meth for years. You couldn’t have told (he has a meth history) from his appearance, but he does have that energy about him of being a meth addict.”
Despite variability in how meth affects people, anyone using meth with any regularity is virtually certain to exhibit changes in attitude and behavior.
Marsha Hunt (not her real name), who divorced her husband because he became a meth addict, says, “He became possessive, paranoid, verbally abusive, more than he already was. (It) started getting to the point I was afraid for my own life.”
After she filed for divorce, “He followed me on Facebook, tried sending me messages, emails, texts, phone calls. He tried to break into my house…”
And Diana Headley, a recovering addict, describes how when someone becomes an addict, he or she doesn’t care about the consequences of actions anymore.
“It’s kind of like they run off of fate. There’s no mindset that, by making choices, you make the good times or the bad times…It’s like, one of these days something big is going to happen, and I’ll be sober.”
Defense attorney Angerhofer recounts how meth can force a parent to make a dreadful choice. “I do child welfare cases as well, and you’re talking to people with the very real possibility of losing their family, losing their children, and they have a choice to make—fight for their kids or do meth. And they choose meth.”
“There’s a reason they (meth users) will go and get into a shredder and reassemble all the financial documents, or they’ll strip the insulation off of a lot of copper wire, which is a tedious task,” says Daniels, the county attorney. “You’re up, you’re energetic, you’re focused, and if you’re a criminal, you’re going to use those attributes to commit new crimes.
Daniels says meth was at the heart of the Fullwood murders, an incident in 2011 where a retired couple was shot and killed in their home in Mt. Pleasant. The killer, Logan McFarland, had been doing meth and was apparently trying to rob the house to find money or goods he could sell for drugs. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“Methamphetamine was at the core of the Fullwood murders. Period. Without meth, you don’t have the Fullwoods being killed,” Daniels says.
In the final analysis, meth use seems to boil down to just two pathways. Either the addict quits using—or his or her life is ruined.
“When you live this lifestyle…I stopped counting the number of friends that I’ve put in the grave in Sanpete County at 29,” says Headley. “I’ve lived here since I was 12, and now I’m 41. I’ve had a lot of friends die from addiction, and for each one of them, I never stopped to process [my grief].”