Between a rock and a hard place

Meth use a big concern to law enforcement and community

Keywords: Poll question,
Regina Womackis a former Dolores resident who was addicted to methamphetamines for more than 20 years. She now lives in the Denver area after kicking her addiction. Enlargephoto

Courtesy photo

Regina Womackis a former Dolores resident who was addicted to methamphetamines for more than 20 years. She now lives in the Denver area after kicking her addiction.

The first time Regina Womack used methamphetamine she was only 14.

That first time led to her being addicted to the drug for the next 27 years.

It was a nightmare of a life, but the drug hooked her and she couldn’t let go.

The rush, she recalled, was so incredible that she never wanted to come down. She wanted the drug and needed the drug.

“It was an extreme adrenaline rush,” said Womack, who has not used for the last 18 months. “It was so incredible I never wanted to come down.”

Like many initial drug users, Womack chased that first high and was never able to attain it again. But she kept trying.

Womack, a former Dolores resident who now lives in the Denver area, was hooked shortly after her first use at 14. Six years ago she upped the intensity even more when she started shooting the drug into her veins. That gave her an even better rush. She said she also smoked and snorted the drug over the years.

Today, she talks openly about her drug use and the nightmare it created.

“For 27 years I was a meth head,” she said. “The first time you use meth you are hooked. You think you feel good when you don’t. Meth makes you think you are in a good mood all the time.”

She also said the drug is both mentally and physically addictive because you think you need it and going through withdrawal symptoms when not using.

Meth turned Womack into a criminal.

She was in and out of jail 17 times in all, and said all the crimes she committed were drug related, which included stealing or dealing to support her $450 a week habit.

The drug dictated her life.

“I knew I was addicted to it, and I didn’t know who to reach out to for help,” she said. “All you think about is getting your next high.”

Rock bottom for Womack was when she went to jail for the “last time.” That’s when she knew she needed help. And she received help for her addiction while in jail.

She remembered the previous times she was in jail, that didn’t really have any impact on her. Within an hour of being released those times, she would be back getting a fix.

“Every time I got out I would hook up with the same meth people. Within an hour it would be back in my arm,” she said.

Her facial appearance changed, she started losing weight and became more susceptible to bruises, which is commonly called “tore up from the floor up.”

“I could not look at myself in the mirror everyday,” she remembered. “Thank goodness I got clean. I did not want meth to have my life.”

Now, all Womack wants is to have a healthy life and to be there for her children and grandchildren while pursuing a career.

KICKING THE HABIT

The last time she was arrested her probation officer gave her a simple choice — treatment or three years in jail.

While in jail that last time she decided it was time to try and break the addiction. She remembered the anxiety, night sweats and the nearly a month of sleepless nights due to all the meth still in her system.

She realized the only way she would be able to break the cycle of addiction once she was out of jail was to escape from Montezuma County, to walk away from her so-called friends and meth buddies was the only chance she had.

“I knew I had to move geographically to stay clean and kick my habit,” she said.

She found a treatment facility in Commerce City, Colo.

Her former life of drugs scares her. She realizes she cannot ever move back to Montezuma County because she would probably return to the same crowd and that could cause her to relapse.

The major problem in fighting the addiction, she said, is not being able to understand the word “help.”

No. 1 problem

The No. 1 problem in Montezuma County that feeds into other crimes is the use of meth, according to law enforcement officials.

During the 2012 Republican primary election for the district attorney for the 22nd Judicial District, both candidates listed meth as the biggest concern within the county.

In the first half of 2011, there were 10 cases involving meth. There were 12 cases in the first half of both 2009 and 2010.

Montezuma County Sheriff Dennis Spruell said he blames a good deal of the crimes being committed in the county on alcohol and meth use. He said the best way to lessen the meth problem is to apprehend the dealers.

“Getting rid of the drug will reduce the crime to some extent,” Spruell said.

Spruell, who was on the county’s drug task force for 11 years, said non-college towns and cities, like Cortez, generally draw more people who use meth, while college towns usually have more money and are more apt to use cocaine.

Spruell said a lot of people will not change their patterns or friendships even if they want to quit using meth.

He echoed Womack’s statement about the first time a person uses meth, saying it affects the dopamines, which bring pleasures to people, and that first use causes the best high possible but it then damages those sensors forever.

And to try to reach that high again or to get happy or defeat depression more meth is used, he said.

Is incarceration a solution?

“Meth causes brain damage,” Spruell said, adding that only 3 percent of the people who seek treatment are successful, and 97 percent will relapse within one year.

“The best way to rehab is to get that person away from it, and the only way to do that is jail,” he said.

“We are doing our part,” Spruell said. “Firm, fair law enforcement and being proactive into trying to stem the bringing of methamphetamines into our county is what we try to do.”

The Republican nominee for the DA position, Will Furse, agrees that meth use is a problem, but his views on how meth use should be tackled are different than the sheriff’s department’s.

Furse said he prefers treatment over incarceration in most cases.

“The United States has the largest prison system in the world — 52.5 percent of which are drug offenders with 4 out of 5 of these inmates having been arrested for drug possession, not drug sales,” Furse said via email. “While countless studies show that drug users are more likely to commit other crimes than non-drug users, the answer hardly lies in building more prisons.”

He said for those who battle drug addiction, he believes crime prevention can be found in drug treatment, work release programs, and prison aftercare.

“A prisoner’s continued treatment following their release ensures reintegration into the community which in turn is proven to prevent (offending again and relapsing),” Furse wrote via email.

Transporting drugs

Andy Hughes, assistant DA and the challenger to Furse as a write-in candidate in the general election, said he thinks the use of marijuana leads to people using and becoming addicted to meth, which echoed Spruell sentiments.

With new rules regulating how much cold medicine can be purchased from drug and grocery stores, he thinks a lot of meth is now coming into the community from Mexico and pointed to the recent arrest of a man at the Ute Mountain Ute Casino in Towaoc as a good example. The man was found carrying one pound and six ounces of high-quality meth.

”That is a large amount of meth coming into the community, he said.

That large amount of meth could have resulted into thousands of hits of the drug if it had made its way to the streets, Hughes added.

He said meth is a drug that is a gateway to other crime, partly because it alters the user’s mentality of what is right and wrong, which Womack can confirm.

Hughes pointed to instances where a physical altercation could turn into serious bodily harm or even death because of the altered state of mind that Womack also remembers all to well.

Addicts, Hughes said, are often interested by only one thing and that is to feed the habit in any way possible.

Hughes said there are a few success stories — like Womack — who have beaten the addiction and mentioned the drug court program that District Judge Todd Plewe oversees.

“It’s a moving experience to see someone from a very low place rise from the ashes like a phoenix,” Hughes said.

The drug court program is an intensive treatment program through the probation department.

Hughes said that one possible solution to slow the use is visiting the schools to talk to students and show them photos of accidents and addicts and the impact of the drug on them.

“There is so much we can do, and it would not cost us anything,” he said.

Womack said friends and relatives need to be aware of the warning signs, so they will be able to better assist as well as understand the problem of drug use from the beginning.

Some warning signs, she said include constantly asking for money, staying up late at night, receiving phone calls at all hours of the day and night and sometimes never returning home.

michaelm@cortezjournal.com

Meth use is the number-one problem in Montezuma County and leads to other crimes, according to local law enforcement officers. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal Illustration

Meth use is the number-one problem in Montezuma County and leads to other crimes, according to local law enforcement officers.