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METH-MAKERS CALLED 'DOMESTIC TERRORISTS,' BUT FIGHTING THEM NOT PROMINENT
COLUMBIA, Mo. - Missouri Sen. Kit Bond, a Republican whose state ranks
No. 1 in busts of makeshift methamphetamine labs, calls peddlers of
the highly addictive drug "domestic terrorists."
Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa says voters in Midwestern
presidential battlegrounds are more likely to encounter a meth maker
than an operative for al-Qaida.
But while the federal government spends millions to boost state and
local law enforcement efforts against the made-from-scratch stimulant
- variously known as crank, meth or ice - methamphetamine has scarcely
been mentioned by the presidential candidates.
At the state level, however, candidates stress their commitment to
Police are challenged daily by the audacity of the drug's makers and
their toxic trails of waste byproducts. Missouri shut down 2,860 meth
labs last year, more than any other state. Authorities say they are on
track to exceed that total this year.
As a political issue, the statistic cuts two ways: It's encouraging
that thousands of labs are being busted but frustrating that so many
keep popping up.
Meth hasn't been mentioned much in recent presidential campaign
speeches, despite the presumed advantage of localizing appeals to
audiences in Missouri, Iowa and other Midwestern electoral
President Bush's recent Missouri bus tour took him through half a
dozen mostly rural Missouri counties where more than 70 meth labs have
been busted this year. White House transcripts reviewed by The
Associated Press show Bush never referred to meth during that Missouri
Bond said he has "gotten right in the middle of the issue," including
securing more than $13 million in federal money for local cops to
fight meth. It pays off politically. More than 70 sheriffs, including
several Democrats, have endorsed Bond over Democratic challenger Nancy
Bond told the AP he doesn't recall ever talking to Bush about meth.
But the senator said meth hasn't broken through as a coast-to-coast
issue, although it has been called an epidemic by police in locales as
diverse as southern California and the Ozarks.
"We do have a very specific Midwest problem," Bond said, "and perhaps
it's very difficult for a president or his opponent to make it a
national issue, although drug problems are a national problem."
Burns, Bush's deputy drug czar, acknowledged as much during
congressional testimony last February. He said there was a "lack of
national uniformity" to the meth problem.
"Simply put, according to the National Drug Intelligence Center, in
some areas of this country, methamphetamine use and production is not
classified as a significant problem. Yet in other regions, it is a
significant threat," Burns said.
Burns said the Bush administration has spent millions on
federal-state-local teams battling meth in the Midwest, the Southwest
and California. He said the administration supports expanding federal
drug courts and working to "tighten regulatory controls" on meth
Democrat John Kerry's campaign by train carried him to multiple
rallies between St. Louis and Kansas City this summer - a stretch with
more than 350 meth lab raids in 2004.
Campaign spokesmen assert Kerry may have said something about meth at
some point in his Missouri travels, but they couldn't provide any
transcript or news report to back that up. Kerry did briefly refer to
Iowa's meth problems during a Washington speech last month.
Surrogates are talking about meth, however. Campaigning for the
Democratic ticket at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia, Iowa's
Vilsack quipped: "Rural residents of Missouri and Iowa are far more
likely to confront a meth dealer than a terrorist."
Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards called meth "this
poison" during an Aug. 16 campaign stop in Greene County, where more
than 40 labs have been taken down this year.
"The spread of this has just been deadly out in rural communities and
small towns," Edwards said, adding that meth is a growing problem in
his home state, North Carolina. "We have to have a commitment as a
nation to do something about it."
Edwards went on to criticize Bush administration funding cuts for law
enforcement, such as community oriented policing. The Kerry-Edwards
campaign said more recently that Kerry supports federal legislation
based on an Oklahoma law making it harder to buy large amounts of
over-the-counter meth ingredients.
Bond said the reality of the meth battle is that local officers are on
the front lines, not federal officeholders.
Sheriffs interviewed by the AP praised Bond's efforts in delivering
money. But they would be gratified if the presidential candidates
talked about national strategies.
"I'd like to hear them talking about meth, but with action, not just
buzz words," says Montgomery County, Mo., Sheriff Bob Davis, a
Republican who recalls the arrest of a whacked-out meth user who
kissed a horse before brandishing a knife at a deputy.
Says Franklin County Sheriff Gary Toelke, a Republican whose county
raided more than 65 meth labs this year: "I know the big national
issue is homeland security and justifiably so. But I hope in dealing
with that, they don't lose sight that meth is a growing problem."
'TERRORIST NEXT DOOR' VIDEO SHOWS DEVASTATING EFFECTS OF METH ABUSE
To make it abundantly clear how bad methamphetamine affects its
abusers and innocent bystanders, a special video by Video Illumination
Productions is in the works. The Tullahoma Drug Free Task Force saw
clips on Tuesday of the video, being produced by VIP, based in
Winchester. Dale Moore is the company's executive producer while Paul
Koch is the producer.
Moore, Koch and Pamela Peck, owner of Mid-State Realty Century 21 and
a Franklin County Chamber of Commerce director, explained the video's
intent. They said meth abuse has reached epidemic proportions in the
immediate area. Not only are abusers affected, but unsuspecting people
who may later rent property that had been used to house a meth lab.
The video in its final form will showcase area law enforcement
personnel - Moore County Investigator Larry Campbell, Franklin County
Investigator Mike Bell, Franklin County Chief Deputy Tim Fuller and
others. Moore said meth has become such a widespread problem that it
affects nearly every community in some negative way.
The video is called Terrorist Next Door. Inmates in local jails are
They involve a man who had a son taken away because of his meth
addiction, a young mother who lost two children the same way and
another woman who has to deal with serving a three-year jail sentence
and explain to her three children what went wrong.
Moore said an effort was made to contact local businesses about
contributing. He said Wal-Mart was more than willing to donate to the
cause. Ms. Peck said Century 21's corporate office also was very
supportive of the video effort.
She said the company as a real estate firm has to deal with property
damaged by meth labs. She added that the more people know about it,
the more they can do to take action to combat the drug and its drastic
effects. Moore said the video will be made available to municipalities
across the state, and plans are to have it air on the Discovery
Channel sometime next year. Task Force members agreed it would be good
to show the video in schools to let children see how bad the side
effects from meth abuse can be. Koch displayed pictures of children
burned and injured while they were near meth labs. "The effects on
children are just tremendous," he said. Koch said if children
understand how devastating meth abuse can be, they might not want to
ever experiment with it.
Task Force chairman Troy Bisby said Tullahoma has taken an initiative
to combat meth abuse by enacting two separate ordinances. One
regulates the display, sale and delivery of cold medicines ephedrine,
pseudoephrine and phenylopropanolamine and the other condemns property
used for meth production until proper cleanup measures are taken.
"It's a good first step," Bisby said, adding later: "We're going to do
what we can to fight meth."
The drug lab ordinance requires that property owners be responsible
for site clean-up costs.
Bisby had said property owners as landlords would take a more active
interest in whether they rent to meth producers, and the landlords
would also be more aware about debris from illegal labs being on their
property. The other ordinance regulates amounts of the cold medicine
products sold and requires purchasers to show identification and sign
documents when they buy them.
SWINGING AT THE SHADOWS: THE CURSE OF CRYSTAL METH
More Addictive Than Crack Cocaine, The Street Drug Is Sweeping Across Canada Like A Toxic Wave
REGINA -- Rain, saliva and tears soaked the pistol in Mike Lund's mouth. He stood alone in a field near a baseball diamond in Regina, tasting the metal tip of the black .22-calibre Walther.
In that suicidal moment, he didn't think about the power of crystal methamphetamine.
He could hardly remember his former life as a store manager who negotiated wholesale deals across North America. He didn't understand how meth had reduced him to an addict, a petty criminal, a small-time drug dealer.
Now, seven months later, under house arrest, the 24-year-old stitches together the memories from his two years on meth: the gang members who threatened to kill him; the junkie who tried to cut off his own toe; the friend who prowled a rooftop in a dressing gown, swinging a meat cleaver at shadows.
Mr. Lund has decided to tell this dark story, first to The Globe and Mail and then to anybody who will hear his warning. He's worried about other people like him, he says, about the otherwise ordinary lives shattered by meth's arrival in places that haven't seen such a powerful new drug in decades.
"Right now, at this very moment, two Grade 10 girls are smoking meth for the very first time at a house over there," he said, gesturing down a street lined with mature trees. "These girls are coming out of nice, peach-coloured homes. . . . They have these beautiful homes and families who love them very much, they have brothers and sisters, they drive nice cars, and they're probably going to be whoring themselves on the corner so they can smoke meth, four months from now."
That's the heart of the fear about crystal meth. The drug is already rampant among young B.C. street people. What alarms police, doctors, professors and others who study methamphetamines, however, is the way crystal meth has spread across Canada in the past few years.
It's a toxic wave moving from west to east, they say. A dose of the white crystals often costs less than a pack of cigarettes, it's more addictive than crack cocaine, and it's more likely to cause psychosis than any other drug on the street.
The awful potential of meth has already been unleashed in the United States, where the wave started in California and crashed into the Midwest, plaguing small towns and making the word methamphetamine more common than the words marijuana or cocaine in U.S. courtrooms.
Meth hasn't hit Canada so hard, but the emerging patterns are similar.
Jennifer Vornbrock, a manager at Vancouver Coastal Health, chaired meetings of meth experts last month and discovered that the scourge among her city's young street people has become a problem for middle-class neighbourhoods across the country.
"It's getting into suburbia and small rural towns that aren't used to dealing with a substance of this magnitude," she said.
Two years ago, almost nobody in Regina had heard of crystal meth. Mike Lund certainly had no idea what the stuff looked like.
He was raised in a comfortable house with his mother and brother, earned good grades in school, played violin with a junior symphony, took up classical guitar, and won trophies in hockey, basketball and baseball.
His strongest talent emerged at age 17, when the long-haired teenager took a part-time job at a store that sells bath products.
The young man rose quickly from clerk to manager. He cut his hair short and was featured in a local newspaper as a promising entrepreneur. Introducing the store's handmade soaps and bath bombs to the wholesale and export markets, he negotiated deals with clients in California, Nevada, New York and across Canada.
His first encounter with meth happened on a warm evening in June, 2002. He was finishing his day at the soap store and feeling tired because he had recently started a second job at an auto garage.
A regular customer invited him to his apartment a few blocks away. He had never visited this guy before, but he was impressed when he climbed the stairs and opened a door into a pristine room with cream-coloured carpets, suspended halogen lights, spare furniture and a glass coffee table.
His new friend welcomed him, pulled out a small bottle and shook a white rock onto the table. He said it would ease Mr. Lund's fatigue.
The rock was chopped into powder, and he snorted a line through a glass tube. "This stuff burns, unlike any other drug. It feels like your brain is going to explode, like it just hurts very badly. I'm sitting there, I've got tears streaming down my face, and I'm looking at him going, 'Why did you make me do this?' Two seconds after the pain, though. . . ." He snapped his fingers.
"Ting! Your brain goes Atten-SHUN! Like boom, all right! You're talking a mile a minute, you can't get enough air into your lungs to say all the words you want to say."
The high lasted all night and into the next morning, leaving him sleepless but alert. He started taking the drug almost every day. The street phrase for turning people into meth addicts is "making monsters," he says, and that's what happened to him.
"I ceased being a human being and became a monster."
Not everybody gets hooked on meth so quickly, and some users can manage the cravings. But law-enforcement officials say Mr. Lund's intense reaction to his first sample was typical.
"There is no recreational use of meth," said Douglas Culver, national co-ordinator of RCMP synthetic drug operations. "You can't just use it occasionally. It's like a disease."
The N-methyl derivative of amphetamine works like other stimulants such as cocaine, except the euphoria can last eight to 12 hours. Some experts say its addictiveness is pure chemistry, but others point to the lure of heightened awareness in a fast-paced society. Club-goers can play all night, while truckers, taxi drivers, prostitutes and students can work longer hours.
"Unlike other drugs, crystal meth has spanned across all kinds of demographics," said Caitlin Padgett, co-ordinator of an outreach group for meth users in Vancouver. "There's just a seductiveness to not sleeping."
Although national statistics are scare, the number of Canadians succumbing to the seduction seems to be growing. Data from Health Canada's Drug Analysis Service, which tests the drugs seized by police across the country, show the number of meth samples from British Columbia increased 50 per cent between 2001 and 2003; Alberta rose 20 per cent; Ontario 108 per cent; Manitoba 141 per cent; Quebec 457 per cent; and Saskatchewan 857 per cent.
"It's being seized on a regular basis now," said Corporal Kevin Lamontagne of the Manitoba RCMP drug section.
The RCMP responded to the growing threat this year by assigning 26 officers to search for clandestine meth laboratories, full time. Police on the Prairies say they're particularly worried because of meth's low price, the easy availability of farm fertilizer used as an ingredient and meth's nickname among their colleagues in the United States: prairie wildfire.
Warnings are showing up in Prairie towns such as Prince Albert, Sask., which has a population of 40,000 and about 140 meth addicts in counselling.
Those numbers are still comparatively low, however. Police didn't uncover any meth labs in Saskatchewan last year. During the same period south of the border, police in Missouri raided 2,858 laboratories.
Similar statistics flashed on-screen at the Western Summit on Methamphetamine in Vancouver last month, and the figures puzzled the international group of experts. The numbers have increased sharply, but the drug still isn't common in Canada. Why has this substance gained a reputation as a serious threat?
"The drug debate is always plagued by one moral panic or another,"
notes Cameron Duff, director of the Australian Drug Foundation's Centre for Youth Drug Studies and a keynote speaker at the conference.
"Perhaps at the moment crystal meth is the drug generating that anxiety, and it might be somewhat out of proportion to the actual reality of the problem."
Mr. Duff paused for thought.
"But with crystal meth, it does seem to be associated with more problems, more frequently, than any other drug," he continued. "If you look at all the problems associated with this drug, you think, well, maybe your priority should be on the drug that causes the most harm, irrespective of the number of users."
The nasty side of meth emerged several months after Mr. Lund's first taste.
His dealer became his best friend, and they travelled to Calgary together to buy drugs. During his first long stretch of sleepless days, he found himself hallucinating while driving along the Trans-Canada Highway. He saw dragons, old women and children, and kept screeching to a stop from 130 kilometres an hour because he thought he had hit them. Later he blacked out and woke up, still driving, on an unmarked dirt road with the gas gauge inching lower. The motor sputtered to a stop just as he was coasting into a town with a gas station.
The meth dealer moved into Mr. Lund's house that fall, and started losing his mind. Mr. Lund noticed him standing in front of a bathroom mirror with blood dripping off his face as he gouged imaginary blemishes with a metal pick. Then Mr. Lund found videotapes of the dealer using drugs to rape women in Mr. Lund's bed. He smashed the tapes, kicked him out of the house -- and became a dealer himself.
"I'd met with all his connections, and I said, 'You're done.'"
Economics is the backbone of meth's popularity. Mr. Lund sold the drug in Regina for about $140 a gram, or $14 a dose. Desperation sometimes raised the price -- somebody gave him a rusted 1982 Nissan for two grams, and another addict traded his 1980 Chevy van for 1.5 grams -- but it was usually cheap. Studies have found street values as low as
$4 or $5 a dose elsewhere in Canada.
Supply drives prices down. Amateurs make the drug with recipes from the Internet, ingredients from the local pharmacy and hardware store, and a healthy dose of courage for mixing volatile chemicals.
RCMP figures show the number of meth-cooking operations discovered by police has grown in Canada, from fewer than 10 in 1998 to 39 last year. U.S. busts during the same years were far more dramatic, rising from 1,627 labs to 9,763 last year The sheer number of meth cooks south of the border has forced many states to pass cleanup laws requiring decontamination of homes before they're suitable for living.
Technicians such as Dan Hannan, of Assured Decontamination in Minnesota, climb into protective suits with breathing masks and mop up the puddles of solvents. The usual meth factory is a roach-infested home with an overflowing cat-litter box, he says, but his crews have also been called to motels, mobile homes, outhouses, tree-houses and even an ice-fishing hut.
Understandably, Mr. Lund doesn't talk about the criminal organization that supplied his drugs. But he laughs when asked about his T-shirt emblazoned with the Big Red Machine logo, a trademark of the Hells Angels. He wants to get something printed on the back, he says, such as, "I screwed up my life for a criminal organization and all I got was a lousy T-shirt."
In fact, "screwed up" hardly begins to describe Mr. Lund's short career as a drug dealer. He once saw an addict offer to settle a debt by cutting off his own baby toe with a serrated kitchen knife. The man started sawing but only got halfway through the tough sinews, so somebody else had to finish the job.
Mr. Lund says he was never so cruel. He remains proud of the fact that he never introduced anybody to the drug, even though he jokes about his own depiction of himself as the "Mother Teresa of the meth world."
He once visited an addict's house and found him in a psychotic state, smashing telephones. The crazed man rushed outside and ripped wires out of Mr. Lund's car, explaining that listening devices were everywhere. Mr. Lund walked to a drugstore, bought sleeping pills, slipped them into the addict's drink and helped the man's girlfriend get him into bed.
Shortly afterward, he visited another friend and found him on the roof wearing a dressing gown and wielding a meat cleaver, shouting that he had cornered the "shadow people." Mr. Lund persuaded him to climb down.
It wasn't so easy dealing with the dealers, especially when meth made them paranoid. One dealer secretly stashed $14,000 in an air vent in the basement of Mr. Lund's rented house, forgot about it, and stole Mr. Lund's car on the assumption that he had taken the cash.
Another dealer put a gun to his head during an argument about drugs, and that's when Mr. Lund started carrying weapons himself. He was still selling perfumed bath products during the day, but his addiction was spilling into the rest of his life.
One day in March, two thugs parked a van outside the soap shop and cranked their stereo so loud the display windows rattled. One of them confronted him in the store about a drug debt, shoved him around, threatened his life and stole some beauty products.
Mr. Lund took the threat seriously. "Somewhere along the way I'd pissed somebody off. So I left my store and I never came back."
Without saying goodbye to anyone, he started camping in the basement of a house belonging to his girlfriend's mother. His family reported him missing and he saw his own photo on the evening news, but he was too afraid to go home.
It got worse. His girlfriend cheated on him, he started laundering money and police finally caught him with drugs, counterfeit cash and a sawed-off shotgun in his car.
Shortly after his release from police custody he found himself standing in a park one rainy day, after spending four days awake on meth, fingering the trigger of a snub-nosed Walther he had traded for $10 worth of drugs. He was utterly transformed, from a clean-cut entrepreneur into a street tough who wore a leather skullcap, studded leather cuffs, and a bracelet of bullets on his wrist. And he was thinking about how a bullet would feel in the roof of his mouth.
"I just snapped," he said.
The list of health effects from prolonged use of crystal meth is long and ugly, as with most other narcotics. What makes meth unique, researchers say, is how often the drug drives people insane. Users get violent and paranoid. They tend to stay awake for days, binging on the drug, which can lead to psychosis.
Richard Rawson, a psychologist at the University of California who has studied drug addiction for 30 years, said researchers don't fully understand why.
"People get crazy on meth like they don't on other drugs," he said.
At the brink, Mr. Lund pulled back. He threw the gun in a creek and went to bed for two days. It was the most dangerous moment of his struggle with meth, even though it would be months before he escaped its clutches. He was arrested again in June, released on bail, and arrested again in September. This time he wasn't released and spent a month at a remand centre.
He wept for days as he lived without drugs for the first time in two years.
The withdrawal symptoms weren't as awful as the full realization of what had happened, he said.
"Going to jail, that was it, that was rock bottom. And then sobering up and going, 'Holy fuck, I need help.' "
Mr. Lund pleaded guilty to what proved to be Regina's first case of crystal meth drug trafficking, as well as to charges of weapons offences and using counterfeit currency. The judge sentenced him to 18 months house arrest with an electronic ankle bracelet tracking his movements.
When he got home, his mother, Wendy Winter, 51, showed him a sketchbook of watercolours she did to express her frustration about his addiction. The sketches formed an alphabet series, with captions such as: "W is for weeping," "and wondering."
Ms. Winter still wonders about her son. "I can't say I'm 100 per cent sure he's out of the woods," she said.
When asked whether he still craves meth, Mr. Lund took a long drag on his cigarette and stubbed it out. He exhaled, and stared through the smoke with his blue eyes. "Every day," he said, quietly. "Every day."
But he wants to rebuild his life. He spends most days back at his old job in the soap store and several nights a week at Narcotics Anonymous. He has started playing guitar again and he's been sober for more than two months.
How many more Canadians will be transformed this way? Some experts say meth isn't any worse than the heroin and cocaine that swept across the country in recent decades. Others believe meth will burn through Canada unlike any other drug.
Mr. Lund says there's no time for debate.
"It has to stop," he said. "These monsters are being created at such high velocity that you can't contain this fire. If you try to contain it, it's going to blow up in your face. You need to extinguish it right now."
Neighbors of a Cobb County house used as a methamphetamine "super lab" say they're upset because the landlord has already put up a "for sale" sign, but there has been no environmental cleanup.
About 100 people attended a neighborhood watch meeting Saturday afternoon, which was scheduled long before Feb. 9, when federal agents busted the lab at 200 Church Road near Smyrna. The rental house also had been raided in September after a nine-month investigation into a Mexican drug cartel.
A red sign warning of hazardous materials remains on the front door, though it's barely visible from the road. But now a red "for sale by owner" sign has been planted in the grass near the curb.
"Why should he have the right to put that house up for sale and endanger another family or children?" said Shirley Streetman, who lives behind the house. "Legally how can he do that? That's my question."
Streetman said she was disappointed she didn't get answers at the meeting.
The operation inside the home's basement was considered a "super lab"
because it could manufacture more than 10 pounds of methamphetamine a day, federal agents said. Meth was also converted there into its more pure, and addictive, crystallized form, called "ice."
This month, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents seized 11 pounds of ice, 39 pounds of methamphetamine and several 30- to 55-gallon containers that held liquid methamphetamine in various stages of processing.
Containers of those sizes can yield 10 to 15 pounds of ice.
Sherri Strange, the DEA's head agent in Atlanta, told the crowd she couldn't discuss the case, but wanted to dispel concerns that the chemicals used in the lab would "forever taint your neighborhood."
Residents should not worry about eating fruit growing in their yards, she said. If a tree had become contaminated, it would die "long before there's any apples on it," she said.
The manufacturing process requires pseudoephedrine, found in cold medicines, and toxic materials such as acetone, ethyl alcohol, Freon, ammonia, iodine and acids, according to federal officials.
The drugs, manufacturing supplies and ingredients found in the house were removed, and sewer lines were flushed all the way to a pumping station. But several immediate neighbors said no one appears to be taking responsibility for ensuring the home and the yard are properly cleaned up.
They are waiting to hear whether any government agency will sample the soil in their adjoining yards. Georgia needs regulations addressing meth lab contamination, said next-door neighbor Lynn Zinn. "Everybody's handing off responsibility for enforcement," she said. "There's more at stake here than just a neighborhood."
A CHINESE gang has gone on trial accused of trafficking more than $7.1
billion worth of methamphetamine, or 'ice', in one of the world's
biggest narcotics cases. The eight suspects appeared in court in
the southern town of Guangzhou, charged with manufacturing and
trafficking 12 tons of the drug between 1999 and 2002.
The amount was "almost equal to the amount of ice drug seized globally in 1999", the China Daily reported.
The defendants, including suspected gang leader Chen Bingxi, 49, face
the death penalty if found guilty, in keeping with China's hard line on drugs including forced rehabilitation of addicts.
Mr Chen initially escaped to Thailand but he was tracked down in 2003
and returned to Guangdong, one of southern provinces that are the main
front of China's battled against drugs.
Much of the Chinese drug trade involves heroin flowing across the border from South-East Asia.
Last December, Chinese media reported the biggest ecstasy bust in the country's history, also in Guangdong. </div>
Last edited by ~lostgurl~; 11-01-2009 at 00:59.
Reason: removing coding
If that's his first offence he might have a bail i doubt it tho but if he does with that much runnin he could probably make a huge ass bail easy, can u imagine 12 tons trafficking in a couple of years if it was individual people he had to be selling to 1 out of 10 people he met on the street lol.
First off china isnt that nice of a country when it comes to drugs or
other form of illegal activity. If he was offered bail (and he wont, he
is to much of a flight risk) they would have frozen all his assests and
confiscated all he owns. He will remain in a cell until the trial and
then I highly doubt he will get off.
If that's his first offence he might have a bail i
doubt it tho but if he does with that much runnin he could probably
make a huge ass bail easy, can u imagine 12 tons trafficking in a
couple of years if it was individual people he had to be selling to 1
out of 10 people he met on the street lol.
lol. somebody getting charged with trafficking $7.1 billion </span>worth of meth isn't going to get bail, regardless of if it's his first offense or not.</font></font>
Is P really that bad? No, say a growing group of middle-class users who claim they use the drug without negative consequences. By TIM HUME and IRENE CHAPPLE. The drug P has been good to Matt Heath. As well as occasionally spicing up the Auckland comedian-musician's nights out, the vilified drug inspired an underground hit single for his band, Deja Voodoo.
When Heath and bandmate Chris Stapp returned from London in 2003, they found newspapers full of headlines about P.
His curiosity piqued, Heath tried the drug at a party, but was distinctly underwhelmed. Detecting fertile comedic ground in what they saw as an over-reaction to methamphetamine, he and Stapp wrote the song "P" (sample lyric: "I smoked P and I'm OK . . . I smoked P and didn't cut anyone's hands off").
"It's saying the idea that anyone who takes P is immediately going to grab a samurai sword and start running amok is bullshit," says Heath, referring to Antonie Dixon, the P-user convicted of murder last week.
Now, as one of the few people willing to talk about meth use in anything other than condemnatory tones, Heath uncomfortably finds himself a public face for the drug.
He said he was just drawing attention to the divide between the official line, which holds that the drug is an unprecedented social scourge that creates violent psychopaths, and the experiences of a growing number of middle-class, recreational meth users, his friends included, who routinely use the drug socially without any major consequences.
"I'm not saying some people don't go crazy on it, but for the vast majority of people it's like, 'P, so what?"'
Heath's attitude is common, but his openness is rare. Media attention to P has been intense, and some recreational users spoken to by the Sunday Star-Times said publicity had put them off the drug. Others considered the press histrionic rather than informative, and said it only served to hinder the fight. The drug, they said, was becoming increasingly entrenched in middle-class circles.
Police Association president Greg O'Connor recognised P as a problem 10 years ago. It irked him that police did not take action then, leaving it to infiltrate all classes of society.
P had created millionaire drug dealers who had arisen from a gang culture, said O'Connor, creating an infrastructure for organised crime which he expected would ease the way for other hard drugs, such as cocaine and heroin.
Last week police also warned of "kiddie packs" - smaller deals intended to appeal to younger users - coming on to the market. And last week a Hamilton man believed to be high on P jumped into the Waikato River and drowned.
Detective Inspector Don Allan, manager of the National Bureau of Criminal Intelligence, says the P market is worth $168 million a year, roughly the same as the cannabis trade.
Police said about one in 10 New Zealanders aged 19 to 29 has tried the drug, which sells for $80 to $100 a point (0.1g).
O'Connor said perhaps several dozen king-pins were driving the market, and they often had covers such as a motor-trade business.
The business had grown exponentially, and "the legacy of P is organised crime".
As for people who said they could take it and be OK, O'Connor said:
"It very quickly becomes a monkey on your back."
Withdrawal of P will not necessarily lead to the physical symptoms associated with heroin, but P users can become "dependents" with severe psychological problems such as paranoia, tendencies to self-harm and violence.
It depletes dopamine, a brain chemical associated with feelings of pleasure, which can lead to long-term degenerative brain diseases.
O'Connor says Heath's comments remind him of "when Dave Dobbyn said 'tell those policemen to put their batons away', just prior to when the (Queen St) riots erupted. We don't want to wait until the musicians think it's OK."
Crack and heroin have long stalked the streets of New York and London, and Australia's big cities have shooting galleries for addicts to use clean needles, but New Zealand is not as familiar with hard drugs.
David Herkt, who is researching a documentary on drugs in New Zealand between 1960 and 2005, said speed tablets of different sorts dated back decades.
During the world wars, soldiers used pep pills, and in the 1960s housewives used amphetamine pills as appetite supressants to lose weight.
In the 1990s New Zealand moved on to ecstasy, and media coverage - triggered particularly by the death of 27-year-old Ngaire O'Neill in
1998 - was sensationalist.
Then P arrived and media focus shifted to the drug, which gives users a frenetic boost of energy.
P-making in New Zealand was slowed by a law, which came into force last October, tightening controls on the sale of pseudoephedrine, a key P ingredient found in common cold medications.
Police said a purer form of P, called "ice", was now increasingly being imported from China.
Some said the media had been a prime marketing tool for meth, marking it out as dangerous and exciting.
But O'Connor said the coverage - which talked of an "epidemic" or "scourge" of P - had helped the police fight.
Despite this, P remains common and many users are young, apartment-dwelling professionals with no mortgage and a high disposable income, who dabble in the drug at the weekend.
Tony Smith, an intensive care specialist at Auckland Hospital and medical adviser at St John ambulance, has acquaintances who have used P for years.
"These are people who are affluent, intelligent, professional, highly functioning and continue to be highly functioning while using methamphetamine."
Smith's acquaintances are among the many who appear to be able to use P without negative consequences. But his job brings him into contact with the flipside of the drug, as he encounters a small number of emergency patients every week who P has turned into "violent psychopaths".
"When things go wrong they go very wrong."
Many of the well-read, well-paid middle-class users viewed the reported link between the drug and violent crime as media hysteria.
Even those who worked in drug rehabilitation questioned whether the public image of the drug was accurate.
Major Ian Hutson, director of the Salvation Army Bridge centres, a residential alcohol and drug treatment programme, had reservations about whether P was the great scourge of society police made it out to be.
"I'm not trying to say the drug is not dangerous," he said. "But there's a history with marijuana and ecstasy of drugs being talked about as if doomsday was coming. The objectivity of the debate is not always there and it's difficult to say whether the rhetoric about P is not another of those overstatements."
The Salvation Army programme did not see a lot of P addicts coming through its doors, and Hutson said knowledge of the drug, like whether there could be a "safe" level of experimentation, was limited. It was clear P was a dangerous drug - people on it seemed to deteriorate quicker than those on other drugs, took longer to detox and had mood swings which were harder to control. But Hutson said alcohol was still far and away the biggest problem substance.
"If indeed P is as bad as people are saying, then we're paying the price for past scare tactics over previous drugs," he said. "People smell an over-reaction."
As a result, many continued to use the drug in the face of police warnings, although users agreed recent high-profile cases had given the drug a nasty reputation.
P users spoken to by the Star-Times all referred to Dixon, whose paranoid stare has replaced the image of cleancut newsreader and former addict Darren McDonald, saying such high-profile examples of the drug's dangers had played a central role in stripping it of any chic.
One person spoken to by the Star-Times said he knew friends who smoked P, but they were "too ashamed" to talk to the press. "Rebecca" is a 38-year old former recreational user who works in the media. "A few years ago it had that allure of it being a 'new drug' . . . now it's got a really seedy and nasty edge to it - thank you Antonie Dixon."
Cocaine, which was gradually becoming more accessible, was the more desirable option, she said.
"I was talking to a friend about this over the weekend, and she said 'P is for peasants'."
Simon, a 32-year-old in the music industry, has used P frequently over the past two years and has watched it change from an openly used drug to one where only trusted peers will be invited to join a session.
"In 2000, people where quite open about it, they were using it in the toilets heaps with p-pipes - it was the new naughty thing to do, but now it has such a stigma people don't openly invite you to join."
Simon was frustrated by what he saw as a focus on P over other dangerous substances.
"It's just speed, and that has been available for ages. It is supercharged . . . but people just have to take some responsibility.
It's my personal choice."
Plus, said Simon: "Aren't we being a bit hypocritical when people get drunk and smash other people up? Where's the stigma there? It's just, 'oh, yeah we're having a drink mate'." Smith also saw a degree of hysteria surrounding P, but said it was justified to an extent. P was different to other drugs.
"People don't become violent psychopaths through regular ecstasy use.
With P, people's lives can be completely, utterly and irrevocably destroyed - not just the users but the people around them. It strikes me the disadvantages to society outweigh the advantages."
He knew of several previously high-achieving people whose businesses and marriages had collapsed under the financial pressure of supporting a P habit.
Even Heath acknowledged the drug's bad side.
P had never had any adverse effect on him, but he had occasionally glimpsed it in others - including a friend who eventually lost his business, and one wasted New Plymouth concert-goer who arrived at a Deja Voodoo gig announcing he was going to break a bottle on Heath's head for what he had said about P.
"I don't know what his angle was because we weren't saying anything bad about P," Heath said. "That was the first time I thought, 'Yeah, P can make some people pretty crazy'.
"But I reckon the people P turns into dickheads were dickheads anyway.
There are people who have six beers and want to punch someone in the head."
"In fact, "screwed up" hardly begins to describe Mr.
Lund's short career as a drug dealer. He once saw an addict offer to
settle a debt by cutting off his own baby toe with a serrated kitchen
knife. The man started sawing but only got halfway through the tough
sinews, so somebody else had to finish the job."
Can someone explain to me why an addict would offer his toe to settle a
debt. I can see the person who is trying to collect money to
threaten or cut off a toe to scare somebody in to paying or risk
death. Why would somebody take a toe instead of money?