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Imported crystal meth now a 'crisis' in Michigan

Psychonaut/Wikipedia Commons

County prosecutors in Michigan are warning of a resurgence of methamphetamine throughout the state. They say the latest incarnation of the drug is much more potent and addictive than it used to be.

The meth that’s sold on the street these days usually doesn’t come from homemade labs. It’s imported from places like Mexico.

It’s late morning and Lia is making a cup of tea. She’s dressed. Her makeup is done, and she’s ready for her day.

“I am a mother. I am an artist,” she says. “I am a lot of things, but I also struggle with the disease of addiction, and that has really compromised most of my adult life.”

Lia has asked that we not use her last name because she is trying to win more visitation time with her daughter.

Shortly after her daughter’s birth, Lia had postpartum depression. That’s when she used methamphetamine for the first time.

“You feel like you’re just on top of the world, and you can do anything,” says Lia. “I feel creative. I feel confident. But it’s also deceiving because you’re just a hot mess.”

A couple of years after she started using meth, Lia was caught up in a drug raid at a house in Benzie County. She says police busted down the door and rushed in with guns drawn.

“And I said, 'thank you' to them because I was just so grateful to not be stuck in that addiction,” she says.

Ice: a new kind of meth

Lia got clean in jail. And then when she got out, she went back to the drugs. But this time something was different. Instead of cooking meth using the “bottle method” – where you mix ingredients and shake them up in a plastic bottle – people were using crystal meth – or “ice.”

Law enforcement officials say ice is mass produced in laboratories – usually in the Southwestern U.S. or Mexico. Ice is much more powerful than the old “bottle method” meth.

When Lia tried it for the first time, it took her by surprise.

“I’ve never had this happen, but I was too high,” says Lia. “I was freaking out because it was just way too much.”

Crystal meth use is skyrocketing, according to county prosecutors in five northern MIchigan counties.

Marquette County has prosecuted more than 100 meth felonies this year; that’s more than 2016 and 2017 combined. Marquette County Prosecutor Matt Wiese calls it a "crisis."

In Wexford County, the amount of meth seized by police went from 12 grams – a small handful – to 439 grams in just one year.

Credit Aaron Selbig
Wexford County Prosecutor Jason Elmore

County Prosecutor Jason Elmore says for the last year and a half, a drug pipeline has been carrying imported crystal meth north from Kalamazoo.

“Crystal meth is cheap. Crystal meth is very prevalent,” says Elmore. “Because it’s cheaper than heroin, we have a lot more people on that crystal meth.”

Cheap and plentiful crystal meth

Elmore says meth has a relatively low street value, at about $100 a gram, which is about one-quarter the price of heroin. He says heroin and prescription opioids are still around but nothing is spiking like crystal meth.

Pam Lynch is a clinical therapist who runs Harm Reduction Michigan, a non-profit addiction services agency in Traverse City.

“It found a way in because the establishment was distracted by the opioid epidemic,” says Lynch.

Lynch says drug trends tend to move in cycles. A crackdown on one drug – like “bottle method” meth – may lead to abuse of heroin. And a spike in the price of heroin may lead people to a cheaper, more potent alternative like crystal meth.

“No human society has ever existed without some sort of mind-altering substances,” says Lynch. “Historically, it goes back for decades.”

But Lynch says meth is different than other drugs. It may not produce as many fatal overdoses as heroin and fentanyl, but because of its chemical makeup, meth takes a destructive toll on people over time.

“These are chemicals that really don’t have any place in a human body,” says Lynch. “Everything from acetone [to] all kinds of nasty, corrosive chemicals that are used to make methamphetamine.”

Trying to get better

Because of years of meth use, Lia has lost most of her teeth and is partially blind. She’s trying to get clean with mixed results.

“It’s actually been a couple of days,” she says. “I’m on day four, which normally I can’t get past day two.”

She says she takes each day one at a time. Lots of tea and coffee help. One day, she says, she’d like to be a stable mother for her daughter.

“Yeah, it’s hard,” Lia says. “But I’m doing the best I can.”