Friday, February 12, 2010

The Monster

The first time I saw the effects of methamphetamine was in the middle school where I taught Language Arts. A parent struggled to sit still in a desk as I went over the state writing benchmarks. Clearly, her twitching showed that something was wrong. It went beyond multiple sclerosis: it was too spastic, and in addition the woman's sunken jaw, there was a wild helplessness in her wide eyes.

That was 1998.

Since then, I have seen this look over and over. In my classroom, at gas stations, on the street.

I've had students who have used the stimulant, abused it, and sold it. They've been in jail. Their parents have been in jail. They've been taken away by the court. They've had their children taken from them.

Meth is easy to get, they tell me. It's easy to make.

It's also easy to get hooked on.

After one use, the overwhelming majority them have become hopelessly addicted.

Meth brings its users' dopamine levels down to near-zero; the brain craves more of the chemical to be brought (artificially) back up.

The high makes the users feel powerful, productive, invincible. Though they'll never get back the intensity of that first high, they'll spend a chunk of their futures chasing it.

Medford is so saturated with the drug, it's called Meth-ford. And I teach right in the heart of it. Given all the evils of meth, it's no wonder I hate it.

What kills me even more than the tweakers (users who've been high for days without sleeping) are my students who can't get off it. Even if they really want to. Even if they've been clean for five years.

Meth's physical effects--sallow skin, lesions, dental problems, weight loss, thinning hair--are nothing compared to the neurological, social, and economic ravaging.

Ellen Hopkins crafted a courageous YA bestseller, Crank, capturing the insidiousness of the monster. Ellen's honesty about her daughter's struggle is shocking but real.

Beautiful Boy, by David Sheff, is meth heartbreak from a father's perspective. Nick, his son, retaliates with his harrowing own version, Tweak.

National Geographic has documented an excellent video "The World's Most Dangerous Drug."

I've tried to educate myself on meth because it's so scary and, unfortunately, increasingly prevalent.

I can't guess how much of my community college population is on meth. But it's a lot.

I'm inspired by the ones who face their monster, who talk about it, who write about it. Female, male, in their teens or fifties, in college for their first or fifteenth time, they all have one thing in common.

They wish they'd never done it.


Shannon O'Donnell said...

Great post, Jennie, and so important! I have each of the books you mentioned. I think all teachers need to be aware of meth and its effects.

Nisa said...

I am inspired by people brave enough to talk about it too. I am sure that there stories keep the numbers lower than they are now (which is kind of scary).

Thanks for posting. I keep saying this today, but knowledge really is power.

Anonymous said...

BEAUTIFUL BOY author David Sheff writes:

Thanks for writing, and thank you for doing this-- I don't have to tell you about the dire need. Yes, I've heard that Medford is a meth capital. Parents and kids need to be educated. Again, thank you.

Best, David

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Wow, it's definitely a problem. How difficult it must be for you to see it on such a close level. So tragic, this drug. It's one of the worst, I think as it is so easy to get, and yet so horribly addictive and destructive. Great post.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

OMG! David Sheff commented on your blog! How cool is that? :-)

Anonymous said...

Jennie, wonderful message. Could you send it as a letter to the editor to the Mail Tribune? I think we have a real need for this.

Jennie Englund said...

SO cool, Shannon! Mr. Sheff must be a remarkable man.

I've heard from CRANK author Ellen Hopkins, too.

Both have encouraged education. It's good reinforcement.

Good question, Carol. I'm thinking of putting together a piece, but I'm struggling with getting the word out while honoring confidentiality. Tricky.

Sharon Mayhew said...

OMGoodness...Jennie, talking about drugs is brave. Witing about it is even more brave. I dated a photographer in college and he said that heroine was so addictive that once you tried it you would always want it. From what I understand meth is the same, but cheaper. I hope that you are taking notes and writing something that tells the story of someone who overcomes this adddiction. One thing we do is tell stories that help someone...

Steven Englund said...

I blame video games. Just kidding. I blame the parents. My dad would have kicked my ass up and down the block if he thought I was involved with meth. And yes, he would have known.