The meth epidemic

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Some of you readers, I’m sure, have seen the new HBO documentary “Meth Storm.”

I watched the film over the weekend and found it to be a dark, depressing examination of a segment of our society that is becoming all too common and all too close.

The film follows a family of meth addicts in Van Buren County over the course of two years and explains that while law enforcement has been largely successful in eliminating domestic meth labs, the result has been an influx of an even more potent version of the drug from Mexico.

Van Buren County is the place where my family settled in the years before the Civil War, after migrating westward from Tennessee. Several generations of my ancestors are buried in the family cemetery there, including my great-grandfather. This is not the story of a drug epidemic in some far-off land. The meth epidemic is right here, in Arkansas, and the truth is it’s a lot closer than even a couple of hours away.

The film makes the point that there’s hardly anyone who hasn’t been touched by meth in some way, and that’s true. I’ve seen the effects of meth, and how they can destroy a life and ruin a future.

I had a good friend growing up, who I’ll call Lee in this column. I met Lee in the third grade and, while we weren’t best friends, we were pretty close for several years. After we finished school, I lost touch with him for a long time. Even after the advent of Facebook, which allowed me to reconnect with many old friends, Lee was nowhere to be found.

Then one day I finally did come across his profile on Facebook and we exchanged messages.

“Where have you been all these years?” I asked.

“Well, for the last seven, I’ve been a guest of the Arkansas Department of Corrections,” he responded.

It turns out that my old friend had fallen in with the wrong people and eventually began cooking meth. Of course, he was finally arrested. He lost everything he owned, including a successful landscaping business, and went to prison. Worse than that, he had also become a meth addict.

When we reconnected, he told me that he had been clean for several years and was on parole. He asked me not to hate him, and I replied that there was no way I could. My heart went out to him, because I knew that he had been through a lot of pain.

As it turned out, we were working in the same town — me at the local newspaper and Lee at a chicken processing plant. I invited him to lunch but he told me he only had a 30-minute break and wasn’t allowed to leave the plant. So I picked up some catfish and trimmings and we had lunch on a picnic table during his half-hour break.

Growing up, Lee seemed like the just the opposite of a guy who would end up in prison on drug charges. He was smart, a good athlete, popular. He always said he wanted to play pro football, and at about 6-5 and well over 200 pounds, he had the size to do it.

As we sat there eating our lunch, Lee told me his story. He had gone to work in the chicken plant while he was still finishing his prison sentence, starting out with the dirtiest job there. Eventually, he’d advanced to a little better position and when he was paroled, he landed a full-time job there. He was recently remarried, and he was happy.

Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what Lee might have accomplished had he not gotten involved with meth. Yes, he was happy, but I sensed that the years had changed his expectations and his perception of happiness.

That was about five years ago. I still keep in touch with Lee, and he seems to be content. He lives in a small town in central Arkansas, still works at the chicken plant and spends his down time raising a huge backyard garden. In his mind, it’s a good life.

I don’t know what the answer to the meth problem is, and I will admit to being conflicted. Sometimes, I think we should simply lock up repeat drug offenders and throw away the key. Then I remember my old friend and I’m glad that he got a second chance.

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Scott Loftis is managing editor for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CarrollCountyNews@cox-internet.com.