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The changing face of meth

Easy availability of a cheap high leads county to examine — — efforts — — —

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A — — methamphetamine addict for 20 years, Tim Strawn can tell you everything — — about the drug. How to snort it, smoke it, shoot it and cook it. —

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And how it nearly ruined his life. — —

"When I got into it, I thought that I would die — — in prison," said the 38-year-old Central Point resident. —

Strawn saw methamphetamine gain a foothold in — — Jackson County more than two decades ago. Back then, the drug — — largely was controlled by biker gangs who spent a month mixing — — up a batch. They "cooked" in backwoods shacks and trailers because — — you could smell the chemicals from miles away, Strawn said. —

But today, meth is so easy to make that Sudafed — — tablets and matchbooks will do the job. —

Meth "labs" often travel around the county in — — the back of druggies' cars. —

"I used to drive down the road in my Toyota pickup — — making the stuff," Strawn said. —

Twenty dollars will buy a hit that, for a first-time — — user, can last

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several days. But anybody who has been into meth — — for a while knows they don't have to buy it. They can make their — — own, Strawn said. —

The drug's increased availability and its low — — cost to users is one reason state and local officials are sitting — — up and taking notice of Oregon's meth problem. Although it's been — — around for years, meth has only become more popular and is a leading — — cause of the state's crime, child neglect and drain on social — — services, officials said. — —

"It's causing parents to abuse their children; — — it's clogging up our jails; it's making kids drop out of schools — — ... It's wrecking lives," said Hank Collins, director of Jackson — — County Health and Human Services. —

A methamphetamine awareness conference this week — — kicks off a county-wide effort focused on the drug. The county's — — alcohol and drug planning committee over the next year will educate — — the public about meth while re-evaluating and adjusting treatment — — practices, law enforcement efforts and social service strategies, — — said committee Chairman Abe Huntley. —

The county's drive against the drug coincides — — with attention from a state task force appointed by the governor — — in December to stamp out meth. Citing meth abuse as the driving — — factor in statewide crime, Ted Kulongoski is the first Oregon — — governor to single-out the drug. —

The governor's plan calls for targeting meth at — — all levels, from monitoring the everyday chemicals used to make — — it, to treatment programs for users who become addicted. The task — — force plans to make recommendations to the governor in September, — — said Phil Lemman, executive director of the Oregon Criminal Justice — — Commission. One outcome may be a change that bumps the theft of — — items used to make meth to a felony-level crime, Lemman said. — —

Having run bootleg barrels of ephedrine from Mexico — — back home to Oregon, Strawn said he always found a way to get — — around restrictions on ingredients needed cook a batch of meth. — — If he couldn't buy iodine in Oregon, he bought it in California. — — If he couldn't buy it anywhere, he burned seaweed to extract it. — — —

But if a coveted ingredient is commonly used in — — manufacturing or the medical field, there's always a meth user — — working in that business who is willing to steal it, Strawn said. — — Or it might come from someone who just needs the money. —

A former employee of Medford's National Flora, — — 36-year-old Diana Orey used meth on the job for about two years. — — It wasn't long before she found other addicts in her office. Snorting — — lines at their desks or dissolving the drug in a cup of coffee — — gave them the extra boost needed to make it through 14-hour shifts — — taking flower orders from callers during the holiday season. — —

"At first it was easy, but after a few months — — of doing it, I would want to run home (to use)," she said. —

Orey already had been to treatment after her first — — three years of addiction when sticking a needle in her arm to — — get high was a daily ritual. But bad relationships kept her using, — — she said. She forged checks, stole credit cards and pawned her — — son's Playstation to get money to fuel her habit until a night — — in February 2003 when Medford police stopped her car and found — — a pawn slip for a .22-caliber rifle. As a convicted felon, Orey — — was breaking the law having a weapon in her possession. —

Knowing she would be going to prison for the offense, — — Orey crafted a theft scheme to get herself and her children out — — of Oregon before her court date. Using a check-writing program — — purchased at Staples, Orey papered Medford with about $20,000 — — in forged checks bearing her own name and address - but with random — — account numbers verified through Bank of America's automated phone — — banking system. Some of those checks were still floating around — — town when Orey was sentenced to 13 months in prison. — —

"If you have access to a computer and printer — — it's really simple. It only takes 10 minutes, and (the check software) — — even give(s) you your choice of bank logos," said Orey, who was — — released from the Jackson County Jail just three weeks ago and — — now lives in Ashland. "It was actually relatively easy." —

And it's becoming easier as evidenced by Oregon's — — high rate of identity theft - number seven in the nation, according — — to lecturers at an economic crimes summit held last week in Portland. — — Although no statistics have been gathered that definitively link — — meth to financial crime, police and criminal justice officials — — know that the paper trail in most cases leads straight back to — — addicts. — —

"Unfortunately this crime does pay," said Medford — — police Lt. Tim George. — —

"In the doper's world, it's a cash business ... — — and the quickest way to get your hands on it is to do a financial — — crime." — —

It can be as simple as stealing purses, wallets — — or mail right out of the box, gleaning Social Security, credit — — card and bank account numbers. Thieves can either use that information — — to buy items fraudulently, or they concoct more elaborate check — — forgery and identity theft schemes. — —

In the city of Medford, counterfeit, forgery and — — fraud cases increased by 68 percent between 2002 and 2003. That — — rise in financial crimes prompted the police department last year — — to organize a unit of detectives dedicated to investigating them. — — At slightly more than 1,000 cases investigated last year, financial — — crimes are second only to drug cases, which increased by 4 percent — — during the same period, according to police department statistics. — — —

The numbers only underscore meth's prevalence. — — Seventy-five percent of the police department's 1,128 total drug — — cases last year were meth-related. The same percentage of drug — — cases funneled through Jackson County Circuit Court this year — — can be attributed to meth. A quarter of prisoners in the Jackson — — County Jail last week were held on meth related charges. — —

While officials say fewer large-scale meth labs — — are turning out the drug in Southern Oregon, the county's narcotics — — enforcement team last year seized the highest quantity of meth — — - about 50 pounds - in the organization's history. Those busts — — are proof that large quantities of meth continue to flow into — — the area from California and Mexico, said Lt. Dewey Patten, commander — — of the Jackson County Narcotics Enforcement Team. — —

"As long as people in Jackson County want to use — — meth, we're going to have it coming in," Patten said. —

JACNET took down Strawn's meth enterprise last — — year just as he said he was making the decision to quit with the — — support of an ex-girlfriend. Strawn served six months in jail — — on the charge of delivery of a controlled substance. He completed — — drug addiction treatment, graduated this year from the county's — — forest camp program in Ruch and now holds a job for a local pest — — control company. He's been drug free for 11 months and nine days. — — —

But despite Strawn's success crawling out of the — — meth pit, he's not so hopeful for others. —

"It's so large now here that, unfortunately, it's — — a lot like the big city ... that I don't think they'll ever be — — able to get rid of it," Strawn said. — —

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Know thy enemy: What is meth? — —

Discovered in Japan in 1919, methamphetamine is — — a water-soluble crystalline powder suitable for injection. —

It is still legally produced in the United States — — and sold in tablet form under the trade name Desoxyn. Because — — of its high potential for abuse, it is used sparingly in the treatment — — of attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity in children, — — as well as part of a medically managed, short-term weight-loss — — regimen for obese people who do not respond to other treatments. — —

The drug releases high levels of the hormone epinephrine — — and the neurotransmitter dopamine, which enhances mood and body — — movement. While the drug produces a euphoric effect, users also — — are likely to experience insomnia, decreased appetite, faster — — breathing, hypothermia, irritability, confusion, tremors, convulsions, — — anxiety, paranoia and aggressiveness. —

Meth also has a toxic effect on the brain, damaging — — areas that contain dopamine and serotonin. Over time, a meth user's — — reduced levels of dopamine can result in symptoms like those of — — Parkinson's disease, characterized by severe movement disorder. — — —

Meth's popularity likely can be attributed to — — its long-lasting "high," experts say. The initial rush - characterized — — by soaring heart rate, metabolism and blood pressure accompanied — — by orgasmic sensations - lasts approximately five to 30 minutes — — compared with the rush associated with crack cocaine use, which — — lasts between two and five minutes. — —

The subsequent high can last between four and — — 16 hours. Many users continue the high by smoking, snorting or — — injecting the drug for several days or weeks. But eventually the — — user will experience feelings of emptiness and dysphoria that — — cannot be eased by taking more meth. The crash involves sleeping — — for several days during which the user's body replenishes its — — supply of epinephrine. —

Meth users experience no immediate symptoms of — — physical distress during the withdrawal phase, returning to a — — slightly deteriorated state of normalcy. Over time, however, people — — who have used meth become lethargic, depressed and lose the ability — — to experience pleasure. Using more meth will end those feelings. — — —

Sources: National Institute on Drug Abuse, Narconon — — International and Food and Drug Administration —

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Forum scheduled for Thursday in Medford — — — — — — — Where: Smullin Center, 2825 E. Barnett Road, — — Medford — — — — For information or to register: call Southern — — Oregon Drug Awareness at 608-4028.