Glimpses of meth hell

Among all the drug traffickers I’ve interviewed in 30 years, the most memorable series was with a meth dealer with a moral dilemma. “I can’t do this much longer,” he said. Watching his buyers slowly lose everything healthy persons value was nagging at his conscience.

He described the downward spirals of his best customers. They were losing their jobs, homes, credit, teeth and health. They were growing estranged from their loved ones. For each $50 fix, they would sell or trade another possession and forfeit another piece of their souls. Some had resorted to theft and prostitution. Some were sharing syringes and unprotected sex. Some had lost interest in everything except sex and drugs and couldn’t fathom sex without meth or some other illicit stimulant. They were likely, statistically, beyond the point of no return. “The most desperate are the most dangerous,” he said, because “they have nothing to give — and nothing to lose.”

He was at risk of losing his freedom. As a convicted felon with pending court dates, he had a sense of hopelessness. He felt like an agent of Satan. And I thought I was interviewing a vampire until I realized he was grappling for a way to salvage what little was left of his self-esteem — an honorable way out. His status as a felon limited his legitimate job options and, as he saw it, his income potential, so he dismissed lawful career prospects. He didn’t “cut” or dilute the potent product he bought in Atlanta; thus he viewed himself as a predominantly ethical dealer. But it haunted him to see his clients self-destructing or using meth to seduce, if not hook, innocent youngsters.

Nevertheless, to cut off his sickest clients would entail predictable risks, including threats of exposure to law enforcement. Even more concerning, he couldn’t afford to fund his own habit by catering exclusively to occasional users, the few wary of the drug’s destructive properties and their own vulnerability. “They watch where they’re going,” he said. He marveled at addicts’ capacity to deny reality or externalize blame when bad things happen. He challenged me to “Look back on your life and tell me when you were moving forward or sliding backward by your actions and inactions.”

He knew he was regressing. He and his live-in partner had trust issues. They were fighting more frequently and ferociously. They took to hiding their stashes from each other. At some point, their dog was kidnapped and ransomed.

“I don’t trust anyone anymore,” he said. “People pretend to want friendship, but they only want dope.” He had been battered and robbed, separately and simultaneously. While he slept, after binges spanning days, he clung to his backpack — like a father to his baby. He always looked wired and tired — and disgusted by a phone that constantly exploded. Considering the paranoia and psychosis associated with extreme abuse, it seems miraculous that nobody got buried in a basement.

Shortly after recovering the dog and hearing a hallucinating user insist that bugs were crawling out of his (the dealer’s) ears, he moved and vanished. Last I heard he was a recovering addict. Given his longtime affliction, he would be a precious exception to remain “on the wagon.” But he struck me as a rare individual — handsome, articulate, philosophical and resilient — smart and strong enough to see where he was going and change course.

Today, an ongoing local trial provides additional glimpses of meth hell and reminds us what happens when addicts embrace rather than escape the flames. One defendant has been convicted while the other stands accused of complicity to murdering their dealer. The case is as twisted as the slaying was grisly. And consider the staggering magnitude of the tragedy: Three families are devastated; their lives forever changed.

Jurors are in a separate hell as they seek the truth amid the defendants’ contradictions of themselves and each other. There’s another complication: to that extent that meth-addled hell is the impossibility of reason, logical motives and behaviors don’t apply.

The meth problem continues unabated, and there are signs it’s becoming more deadly. Indiana State Police believe a recent quadruple homicide in Waynesville is meth related. ISP Sgt. Jerry Goodin sees it as a growing epidemic everywhere. “It just destroys families,” he told WDRB-TV. Addicts are “willing to kill, they’re willing to rob, they’re willing to steal, they’re willing to do anything.”