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Unnatural disaster: Methamphetamine violence and crime

A family of seven that I knew was on vacation and traveling by car. A semi tractor and trailer came up behind them at a high rate of speed and he wasn’t slowing down. He bore down upon their station wagon. There was no way that the driver of that semi couldn’t have seen the children in the back of that vehicle.

The terrified family was forced to speed through a very dangerous stretch of winding Ontario highway that had been built through the rocky terrain. An accident there was usually bad. The driver finally managed to find a way to egress the highway and got his family out of harms way.

Some years later, I had an opportunity to listen to a former trucker who told me about how he used to carry an attache case full of pills, mostly speed that kept him awake and hurtling down the highway.

As I listened to him, I thought of the family who had almost been run off the highway. It all made sense. That driver had to have been high to do what he did to them.

Fast forward again, a person I know is murdered. I worked with him through an organization where I was his sponsor and helped to guide him. The last time we spoke, he was going back to school. I never heard from him after that and thought it was because he was busy with school and a new chapter in his life. This was not an uncommon event when sponsoring people.

I read the regional news one day and there was a sentencing report briefly noted. For some reason, I thought of my sponsee and ran a search on his name.

Around sixteen months earlier, he had been murdered by a couple of meth heads. Because of how I knew him and the anonymity involved, no one knew to call me. I read the account of his death and cried for days.

He had survived a beating as a youth that left him near dead and with permanent disability. He was brain injured. One side of his body was severely impaired. He walked with a pronounced limp.

He was also determined to be better. He was known by his smile and positive nature. What he survived as a youth didn’t beat the goodness out of him.

He lived independently in a rooming house. He opened his door that day because he still trusted the world.

His teacher had to call the police and tell them that the body they found was of a disabled man. He had been beaten so badly that they couldn’t recognize his condition prior to the attack. A male and a female inflicted those injuries.

I remember biker crank in the 60’s. We used to shake our heads at the fools who used that garbage. We called them “tweakers.”

Today, meth has become the new “zombie apocalypse.” 

Heroin addicts will try to steal your purse. One of my aunts was accosted and beaten about the head in Vancouver, BC by a couple of heroin addicts, but not so severely that she couldn’t gain control the situation and tell them, “I will give you some money, but you may not have my hand bag.”

This is not the case with meth users. There was a case in Winnipeg MB where a man was abducted off the street at 9:00 p.m., held and tortured for twelve hours. He managed to escape the house where he was being held when his kidnappers left him alone in order to raid his bank account using his information.

There is an extreme level of violence associated with meth use.

Meth users will attack you because they are in a state of psychoses. Their thoughts and emotions have become so impaired that they have lost touch with reality. 

Psychosis is characterized by hallucinations and paranoia. This state of mind can be present in paranoid schizophrenia.  However, a meth psychosis co-occurs with meth usage and usually abates once the user is withdrawn off the drug. That process can take hours or up to a week, unless there are other underlying conditions involved that have been triggered by the meth usage.

Meth users can become psychotic if they have used a lot of meth or if they are in a withdrawal stage and just about anything in between. They are unstable and unpredictable. There is no way for any of us to know when a meth user is going to break with reality and become psychotic.

As with other reasons for being prepared, I wanted to stay prepared and safe in view of this new threat and that meant educating myself about the threat.

To do that, I first wanted to understand why meth use had become popular again. I read a six-part series in The Oregonian which was a very thorough investigative report on the methamphetamine crisis.

I reviewed Faces of Meth which was started by a member of the Multnomah Country Sheriffs’ office so that I could recognize the physical characteristics of meth users. 

I read medical information on how meth affects people so that I could recognize a meth addict faster.

There is not one singular demographic that applies. Meth users can be educated, young or old and from any walk of life.

A person in a meth induced state of psychosis can speak rapidly and ramble from one topic to the next. Their conversation may be very hard to follow. They may be restless, agitated and very jumpy.

They may be up for days and then crash hard. When they are coming down off a meth binge, meth users can be particularly dangerous.

Their beliefs may be very odd or unusual with a paranoid belief that others are out to get them.

They like to take things apart and their yards may be scattered with disassembled items. Inside their homes, they may have dug through walls to “trace” the electrical or to follow some other bizarre train of thought.

Meth users may pick at or scratch at their skin because they feel like there are bugs crawling on them.

Many but not all meth users are thin. They may have sores on their faces or limbs from picking at the skin.

They may have plucked their eyebrows and eyelashes out or sections of their hair. They may have shaved parts of their head or done other bizarre things to their appearance.

Their facial skin becomes prematurely lined and aged in appearance and their eyes take on a “crazed” appearance.

Dental issues are common with many users missing teeth or displaying rotted teeth. It is unknown why jaw deterioration continues in some users long after they have ceased using this drug.

Meth users are extremely hard to take down. Police can deploy their tasers multiple times while grappling with a meth user and it has little to no effect. It takes multiple officers to restrain and control the psychotic meth user and often police are injured in the process.

Medical personnel who must cope with them are also often injured and it is a real problem in hospital emergency wards.

I looked into the existence of meth users in my small town and found that we were not immune. We had them living among us and I wanted to be proactive about protecting myself.

My home security was bumped up to prevent home invasion by fortifying my doors.

My husband and I ran drills over how to react in various situations inside and outside our home, as well as at various times of day, including being awakened. We use each other’s second name as a code word that means 911 now, no questions asked. 

I ensured that I had access to items that could be rapidly deployed to inflict a knock out strike. This is one situation where there is no way I am getting in close to someone in combat. I am keeping something between me and them.

Aside from carrying knives, meth users have a preternatural strength borne of their altered state. This meant I had to mentally prepare to use extreme force on someone of any age or gender who might outwardly appear to be physically frail and thin.

I am working on arranging legal access to a gun for protection.

In the case of the man who was abducted at 9:00 p.m. referenced above, Constable Tammy Skrabek, a spokesperson for the Winnipeg police “called the case unique and said the “regular safety messages” police give, like being aware of your surroundings, wouldn’t have made a difference for the victim.”

“In this case, he was paying attention; it was just not expected that these people were going to grab him,” she said.”

I respectfully disagree with Constable Skrabek’s conclusion. I lived in Winnipeg for many years and no one wanders around certain areas on foot and alone at 9:00 p.m. if they possess any situational awareness or common sense. Winnipeg was called “murder capital of Canada” for a reason.

Secondly, situational awareness would have prevented those two men getting anywhere near the victim. 

The abductors had to pull up and then pull him in off the street. That meant parking their vehicle and both of them exiting the vehicle. This wasn’t a six person abduction. A person with street smarts who was paying attention to his environment would have been gone as soon as that vehicle angled towards him and before they had a chance to park.

I ramped up my situational awareness whether in my small town or in an urban area over and above my regular vigilance. I watch closely for signs of meth users around me by their appearance and behavior.

I check my yard for any drug paraphernalia. 

Meth users were paid to piece shredded documents together so the data could be used or sold in the criminal marketplace. They have the ability to fixate and do this under the influence of meth.

I purchased a new shredder. Now any paper with any information including shipping and receiving is shredded on a high quality shredder that prevents the pieces from being restored. I also shred any medication labels or any prescription bags or information.

I put new protocols in place for picking up medication after my husband was almost assaulted in the drug store parking lot. They two people involved are confirmed meth users.

I also hold the local police accountable and have used my security cameras to report meth distribution activity at a house in my neighborhood. They are aware of it, but it is being handled through their drug enforcement channels.

Drug enforcement operates on a work your way up the ladder methodology. They catch the small time addicts, get three names, and keep climbing until they get the big fish higher up.

This is understandable, but it does take time, sometime years, for change to trickle back down to the community level. Some drug houses are left to operate for that reason.

In the interim, all of us need to approach the threats associated with meth usage as we do any other threat: we educate and prepare ourselves.

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