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Meth crisis

They didn’t see the signs at first; the sudden weight loss, the bruises, the irritability.

“Was it just being a teenager?” her mom wondered. “She’d be pumped up about things and then she wouldn’t be so pumped up, sometimes sleeping a lot.”

But then a concerned friend called. Gaye and John Rodriguey’s daughter was on meth. Crank, ice, tweak. No matter what it was called, they knew the danger their daughter was in.

The parents shared their story Thursday night in front of more than 50 strangers at a town hall forum on methamphetamine, called by U.S. Congressman Rick Larsen.

They tried to get their daughter help. Even doing something most parents tell themselves they will never do — they called the police on their teenage daughter.

“She got arrested,” Gaye told the crowd. “They gave her a little slap on the hand.”

The frightened parents tried to offer help. Tried to offer a way out of the drug that claims a 94 percent addiction rate, higher than any other drug. While in jail, she was offered an opportunity to enroll in an inpatient rehab program.

But their daughter put off leaving for a week, opting to return to meth for just one week.

“That was a big mistake,” Gaye said. “She immediately started using again.”

Their child, still a teenager, finally had enough. She told her parents she was through. Wanted to go to a treatment program. Her mother jumped.

“You seize the moment,” Gaye said. “I pretty much had my bag packed.”

At a quarter till six o’clock in the evening, the two bolted for Yakima, trekking halfway across the state, seeking help. Their daughter survived the program and stayed clean for a while.

But last Thanksgiving, the drug’s grasp proved too strong. Their daughter took off again. And her parents are sure she’s using again.

“Because she had a chance to be sober and a chance to be healthy and whole,” John Rodriguey said. “I feel like she has a chance to be better off.”

The Rodrigueys’ story is, unfortunately, far from unique. Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley said that his office is investigating a dozen drug houses, and probably three times that number exist in the county.

“There’s not a neighborhood in the county that doesn’t have a ‘house,’ “ he said. “Why do people show up at 3 a.m.? Why are people coming and going after five minutes?”

Meth’s reach is a lot further than the friends and families of the users. Coupeville Marshall Lenny Marlborough said that one pound of meth creates six pounds of toxic waste. Last year, 19 meth labs were taken down in the county, each creating a toxic waste site somewhere where children play or people will live.

Hawley said that secondary effects can be seen as well. During the last decade, incidents of bad checks and fraud have increased six-fold. The number of burglaries nearly doubled from 230 in 1995 to 421 in 2004.

Ninety-nine percent of those were drug related, Hawley said.

So what is being done about the problem? Local schools, churches and awareness groups work diligently to let people know this is dangerous stuff. It is spreading quickly. And it is out there now.

“Meth is the buzz drug,” Coupeville Schools Superintendent Bill Myhr told the crowd. “It is embedded in the secondary culture of the students.”

Rep. Larsen, who co-chairs a congressional caucus on the meth problem, said that fighting the drug starts at the community level.

“This is an issue that has an impact on the community and the people in the community,” Larsen said. “To address the issue will take a collaborative, community effort.”

In Island County, the sheriff’s office has one less deputy than it did 10 years ago, and one of the funding sources for extra people is being cut nationwide. The Community Oriented Policing Services grant has had its budget cut from more than $500 million down to $22 million.

Myhr said that according to a 2004 survey, 3 percent of eighth, 5 percent of 10th and 2 percent of 12th graders reported trying meth within the last 30 days.

The three school districts each have prevention specialists and are working on educating their students on the dangers of the drug.

“Any school does not have a drug problem,” Myhr said. “You can get what you want any time you want it.”

You can reach News-Times reporter Eric Berto at eberto@whidbeynewstimes.com

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