Matter of Fact Correspondent Jennifer Davis from the Soledad O’Brien show travels to the Manor Of Hope in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, to talk to some of the residents about their personal experiences with meth.
A killer drug is making a comeback – meth. Ten years ago, Congress cracked down on domestic meth labs using ingredients that could be found at local pharmacies or department stores. Now, drug dealers from Mexico have stepped in to fill in the void.
Here is a transcript of what was discussed on the “Matter of Fact Show” with Soledad O’Brien:
“Before opioids became the focus of America’s addiction crisis, meth was the killer drug making headlines. Several laws helped to curtail the abuse of meth, but now a decade later, it’s come back with a vengeance.”
In Oregon, 232 people died in 2016 from meth use, that’s three times the number form 2006 and twice as many people who died from heroin. It’s a similar story in Ohio and Kentucky, and Iowa. At the California-Mexico border US customs and border protection agents say they are seizing up to 20 times as much meth as they were just 10 years ago. The reason for the surge? When the U.S. cracked down, drug dealers in Mexico filled the void and now its getting cheaper and more pure and now it’s flooding across the border.
Our correspondent Jennifer Davis traveled to Pennsylvania, one state that is seeing a deadly surge.
Jennifer: Just outside of Philadelphia inside an old farmhouse dating back to 1806, an innovative cutting-edge effort is underway to help 11 young men battle back from drug addiction.
“It is a life and death battle,” says Steve Killelea.
Jennifer: Steve Killelea founded this long-term recovery community called Manor of Hope two years ago. Most residents come here battling opioid and alcohol addictions but increasingly many are also mentioning another drug.
Steve explains, “More of our guys every month have had exposure to meth. Some have been addicted. Some have just used it. It and it’s very prevalent out on the street now.”
Jennifer: 30-year-old Max who has been sober for about a year is one of them. He says the high of meth was psychologically addictive for him.
Max: “You feel superhuman. You feel like you’re capable of anything, and you are in fact, not.”
“I was hallucinating. I didn’t know what was real, what was fake,” another resident, Parker adds.
Jennifer: 21 year old Parker, now sober for about 13 months, also used meth and says it’s the type of drug that tears your whole life apart.
“It destroys everything, your soul and heart. Everything that you are deteriorates because of this drug,” says Parker.
Jennifer: Meth used to be very common because users could make it at home by combining a few ingredients available at virtually any grocery or hardware store, along with pseudoephedrine which used to be sold over the counter.
A key ingredient for meth though, is now missing from pharmacy shelves. Pseudoephedrine is a decongestant and if you want it these days, you now have to go directly to the pharmacist, give them your license and there are very strict controls about buying it. They are tracking how much you buy and are required to report suspicious activity to the state. Pseudoephedrine regulations cause a temporary lull in meth use, but the drug now is making a comeback in great part due to Mexican cartels who are making and shipping highly potent concentrations over the border.
“Everything that I got, I had to find on the internet and was being shipped in from either Canada or Mexico. I remember one time I got it, it was stuffed inside a sharpie – emptied out. These guys get pretty clever!” says Max.
Jennifer: After almost nonexistent numbers of meth overdoses in their county for several years, the coroner’s office in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania experienced a startling resurgence three years ago that continues to skyrocket at an alarming pace. Since 2015, annual meth overdoses have jumped from two a year to almost two a month.
“We have increased our numbers by almost 300 fold,” says Dr. Michael Melbourne Montgomery County’s Coroner. “They have continued to go up.”
Jennifer: The victims coming through this coroner’s office have been between the ages of 17 and 40.
Gregory McDonald who is Montgomery County’s Chief Deputy Coroner: “It ravages the entire body. It involves almost all the organs eventually.”
Jennifer: Meth overdose calls haven’t risen to opioid levels yet in this community, but they are happening often enough that it is getting people’s attention. Paramedics are on the front lines.
“I have had three methamphetamine overdoses recently, the last one being three days ago. I had one two weeks ago and a previous one on Christmas eve. So I’ve had three in two months.” says Patrick Glynn a Paramedic. “It’s definitely increasing, more than I’ve had previously in my career.”
Jennifer: Patients who overdose on opioids are often found passed out and not breathing, but meth is a stimulant, so calls relating to overdoses of this illegal drug can be far more challenging and unpredictable for emergency crews. They often involve aggressive behavior, paranoia, and delusions.
“At any time, they can come right at you, agitated and may attack you. One time, we had a patient try to get out of the stretcher and out of the ambulance while it was moving because he was having hallucinations and he started working himself up.” Glynn says.
Jennifer: Montgomery county, a community of a little over 800,000, is working hard to get ahead of this problem. It has been designated by the White House as a high intensity drug trafficking area. As for those who have experienced meth and have lived to tell the tale, many say they have a warning for communities — if you don’t start paying attention, it won’t be in the shadow of opioids for long.
Parker adds, “Without the focus on it, without telling people about it and warning people about it, it’s going to become the next epidemic.”