Maine: Crystal meth resurfaces as increasingly deadly threat

A highly pure form of the drug has been flowing into the region, raising fears about overdoses and violence.

Two types of methamphetamine have found their way into Maine: on the left, a high purity crystalline form and, on the right, a pill form, photographed Friday at the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency in Portland.

Two types of methamphetamine have found their way into Maine: on the left, a high purity crystalline form and, on the right, a pill form, photographed Friday at the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency in Portland.

Highly pure crystal methamphetamine is flowing into Maine and New England at an unprecedented rate, alarming police and substance abuse recovery advocates who say the drug has contributed to added violence at Portland’s homeless shelter and an increasing number of overdose deaths statewide.

Front-line workers at the Oxford Street Shelter have in recent months seen an uptick of violent interactions with people who they suspect are using crystal meth, leading to injuries of staff and guests at the 154-bed facility. Next week, staff will receive more training to help handle the unpredictable behavior that follows methamphetamine use.

“At the shelter, we’ve seen a drastic shift over the last year,” said Aaron Guyer, Portland’s social services administrator. “What we’ve seen really is an increase of erratic and violent behavior.”

Criminal trespass notices, which can temporarily bar someone from the shelter for up to a year for breaking shelter rules, have increased 50 percent from 2018, and about half of the notices were for assault on a guest or a staffer, according to statistics released by the city.

Statewide, overdose deaths attributed to methamphetamine are also on the rise. Last year, 26 people died of methamphetamine-related overdoses, or 10 more than in 2017. In the first quarter of 2019, the latest period for which data are available, methamphetamine killed eight people and accounted for 11 percent of all drug-related deaths in that period, according to the Office of the Attorney General.

The violent outbursts that meth produces are a product of how the drug affects the body, doctors say. While heroin and fentanyl depress central nervous system and respiratory activity, methamphetamine is a powerful synthetic stimulant that rapidly produces feelings of euphoria followed by hours of energetic, obsessive behavior that can lead to hallucinations and psychosis. Users sometimes stay awake for days or weeks at a time; with extreme, long-term use of methamphetamine, drug-induced psychosis can be permanent.

“Everything is on edge and ready to go,” said Dr. Jonathan Fellers, an addiction medicine psychiatrist and medical director at Crossroads addiction treatment center who treats people with methamphetamine use disorder. “It can also lead to paranoid thinking and hallucinations, so people can misperceive what is going on around them, and maybe even act on that. People become very suspicious.”

For a 38-year-old Portland resident, Matt, methamphetamine use produced a delusion that he was doing fine and was in control of his life, when the reality was far different.

“I hadn’t worked in three months, I was about to be evicted and I lost 50 pounds,” said Matt, who asked that only his first name be used for fear he would face discrimination for his past drug use. “I could not come to grips with the truth that once I started (using) I lost my power of choice.”

Matt said his drug addiction began with pharmaceuticals that were prescribed to him by a doctor, and his first exposure to stimulants was in college, when a fraternity brother gave him Adderall, which is prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. He used it to stay awake for five days during their pledge week.

Matt said he has been trying to stay clean since a family intervention in 2010 and is currently 17 months drug-free. He came to Portland in the summer of 2018 for recovery after he overdosed on a drug cocktail that included methamphetamine, heroin and other drugs. He said he’s been able to stay sober with the help of a 12-step program and now works professionally to help other people in recovery.

There are many others like him in the state. When Matt arrived in Portland in 2018, there was no meeting in Maine for people recovering from methamphetamine addiction.

“I contacted Crystal Meth Anonymous, and they said the closest was in New Hampshire,” Matt recalled.

Now, at the Portland Recovery Community Center on Forest Avenue, the crystal meth/amphetamine meetings are the fastest-growing 12-step recovery group offered by PRCC, which often hosts meetings with 50 people, said executive director Leslie Clark.

“It’s challenging because it’s just a terrible drug,” Clark said. “The impact on people physically and on their brain, the kind of psychosis and violence is more unique.”

Besides an increase in violence at the shelter, methamphetamine use has been linked to a recent high-profile assault. In July, a 37-year-old Bridgton man was reportedly high on methamphetamine and had been awake for at least two days when he beat and stabbed a couple in their 70s inside their lakefront home, nearly killing them. Police at the time did not identify a motivation for the attack, and it was unclear whether the alleged perpetrator knew the victims.

That same month, police in Portland said a man who was high on methamphetamine was hallucinating when he jumped into Portland Harbor to “cool off” before officers wrangled him out of the water unharmed. And in June, officers seized 112 grams of the drug during a traffic stop in the Bayside neighborhood and charged a Westbrook man with felony drug possession; the same man was arrested again in July, also in Bayside, with 56 grams of meth and a loaded Glock handgun.

And last month, Maine Drug Enforcement Agency officers charged a Brunswick man with transporting 108 grams of crystal methamphetamine to Maine from Boston on an Amtrak train.

Users of the drug pay $80 to $100 per gram, according to the MDEA. That’s typically enough for someone to get high a couple of times, but everyone’s response to drugs is different. The cost is on par with other stimulants, such as crack and powder cocaine.

The crystals, which also are sold in pill form, can be crushed into powder and then snorted, smoked or injected. Users can become addicted quickly, seeking more of the drug to avoid the crash that comes when it wears off.

Police say the drug is flowing into the United States from Mexico, where drug cartels produce vast quantities using industrial-scale equipment, making a crystalline product that is more potent than that produced by the “one pot” method of making methamphetamine at home.

After the drugs are smuggled from Mexico across the Southwest border, Dominican street gangs in Boston, Lawrence and Lowell, Massachusetts, as well as Bridgeport, Connecticut, distribute them to midlevel dealers throughout New England, according to an annual report produced by the MDEA.

“It’s the same network, transportation and all, that brings us heroin, fentanyl and cocaine,” said MDEA director Roy McKinney. “Out West, they’ve been battling it for a long time. In New England, we’re seeing more of that over the last few years.”

As importation of the higher-quality drug from Mexico has increased, police have seen a decline in homemade meth production, in which over-the-counter cold medicine, pseudoephedrine and household chemicals are combined in a violent reaction. That method can produce about an ounce of methamphetamine at one time, McKinney said, and the quality is often lower than the Mexican cartel version.

MDEA agents responded to 126 meth labs or meth lab dump sites in 2016, the highest number recorded in a single year. In 2017, agents found 58 labs, and in 2018, the number declined to 51 labs, according to the drug agency. So far this year, MDEA agents have responded to 33 labs and are tracking toward another annual decline.

In the same period, seizures of the purer form of meth have increased. In 2017, MDEA agents initiated 103 meth-related investigations and seized 5.6 ounces of the drug, an amount smaller than a can of soda. Last year, agents initiated about the same number of investigations – 105 – but seized 9.9 pounds of methamphetamine, including a single seizure of more than 4.5 pounds.

Through the end of September of this year, MDEA agents had initiated 60 meth-related investigations and recovered 3.3 pounds of the drug, according to the agency.

Sun-faced Buddha, Moon-faced Buddha, Shit-faced Buddha: Tales of a Maine Streetnik seeking enlightenment on the drug-soaked streets of the wrong Portland. By N. Gowell

I have learned the junk equation. Junk is not, like alcohol or weed, a means of increased enjoyment of life. Junk is not a kick. It is a way of life.”
William S. Burroughs

~

I left Maine last April and headed for the NW, my old Portland, Oregon drug-use=and=abuse neighborhoods, the Interzone in my own version of Burroughs Naked Lunch. I recall thinking (or rationalizing, perhaps) that, since i had been a serious Zen practitioner for the previous 4 years at Treetop (a Volvo-Zen center in Maine), sitting, chanting, bowing and unbending koans, that I could manage a return to the scene of my previous unraveling, switching my studies over to Refuge Recovery, Noah Levine’s newest recovery practice. Well, I’ve been on the streets (Central Maine, P-town) since I was just 16 and have not seen anything as bad as the grotty shite that i experienced this trip around to the North West. Even old friends, peeps I would have trusted 16 years ago with a Q.P. (quarter pound) of dope and 5K (in neat stacks of $100s, $10s, $5s, $1s, the occasional $50) alone in my house, these days I wouldn’t drop my backpack in front of and leave for five seconds; they’ve become like rabid rats on cheese over and up there.

Or am I just talking about me?

Because after only three weeks in the NW I’m on the machines gambling (well, that was once a bit of a problem.) The next thing you know and its 4 am and I’m at the porn store, across from Taco Bell, in the parking lot and in the viewing booths trying to score dope (speed). I met this chick across the way, “Prius Maelstrom,” and Prius, it turns out, is a dope peddler and following an exchange of yen, she gladly serves me (as we’re behind a fence hiding from her boyfriend [!], she, a bit twacked out. ) It was a short trip from that initial serve to me getting back into trafficking for Prius. In no time I was straight-up homeless, doing goofballs (a gram of coke and a gram of heroin) and just stinking of the streets. Then, Prius’ house suddenly burns down. Luckily her pitbull, “Saddam” saved her and the family’s life buy grabbing them by the necks and pulling them out of their beds.

~

I don’t spot junk neighborhoods by the way they look, but by the feel, somewhat the same process by which a dowser locates hidden water. I am walking along and suddenly the junk in my cells moves and twitches like the dowsers wand: ‘Junk here!”
William S. Burroughs, Junky

~

The city was being raped by addiction! Ken kesey must be in his grave rolling around, because this is not the city he departed from and gave so much energy to. This was a city being raped by a bunch of synthetic junkies. “Synthetics?” you say? Well, when I got into speed, it was either Propylene or Ephedra.. old-school labs/Chefs, and there were no bathsalts or Fentynal. I’d never seen speed where, like crack, you had to keep using, or like heroin, where you had to keep wiping your nose, carry around toilet paper.

Those few weeks that I spent on the streets of the Other Portland were like that, and then, the more deeper we got, the crazier shit got. Bodies kept piling up from overdoses and Street Life, itself. Shootings, stabbings… the more they kept tweaking the opiates and speed, creating a different strand, the more surreal it got. I mean, at 3 in the morning, I was watching people staggering through the streets like like they were in a George Romero movie. I watched gray dope take a spin in the park blocks, basically a different cook or molecule of Fentanyl and the bodies continued to hit the pavement like dupes at a Benny Hinn crusade.

I was just digging a deeper ditch; I mean, I was actually the first case treated in Peace health for NARCON RESISTANT DOPE; of course then, I just left, A.M.A. (against medical advice,) my middle initials. I remained out of control after hitting the Street; I was homeless and feeding a habit, with the local Drug Task-force taking an interest in me because of my prices; I had to keep selling to support my habit and I was going as low as $60 an 8-ball and $900 for 24 grams of black, $250 an ounce for white.

Meanwhile, my “good friend” Prius, the chick that I’d met at the porn store, the one who’s house had burned down, kept digging a deeper ditch as well. By June 24th, she fell into what resembled a really rough episode of the show “Breaking bad” and ended up busted and facing up to 6o years behind bars.

Nothing felt good after Prius got arrested – she’d become my road dog, my street partner, you know, so I went back to treatment. I actually did phenomenally well for a while, until a Confidential Informant showed up. This thug had put out paper on (ratted out) some of my people in the Park Block, and I ended up getting pissed and (again) thrown out of treatment , this time for taking that rat out, tattooing him.

~

“I am a ghost wanting what every ghost wants-a body-after the Long Time moving through odorless alleys of space where no life is, only the colorless no smell of death…Nobody can breath and smell it through pink convolutions of gristle laced with crystal snot, time shit and black blood filters of flesh.” 
William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch

~

So, a couple days after my birthday and I’m sitting with another good friend, another heroin dealer named “Helen,” who asks if I want to take a spin up to a neighboring city and pick up, like 48 grams and she would break me off a piece. I agree and we head out and when we get back its 10:30 pm and we’re in her car, out in front of the homeless outreach. She asks what my tolerance is, and I, of course, tell her “whatever,” because I have always had a high tolerance. She fixes me a shot and the next thing I know, its 4 am, and I’m in the ER and I’m coming out of it. A doctor tells me I am lucky because they barely saved my life, and I couldn’t believe it. I was on paper(parole), so I wanted out of there quickly and with no questions. I signed the paperwork and got in touch with Helen, who instructed me to meet her at the package store. When we meet up she tells me that when I’d overdosed that she’d hit me four times with NARCAN, and still got barely a heartbeat. She was freaking, so she’d dumped me off at the ER. She served us both and I forgave her. But other fucked up shit was already happening elsewhere in my view.

A friend staying in one of the rooms I stayed at got shot in the head by a Mexican rushing on speed; apparently someone there owed him 20 bucks. His victim was the most innocent kid there, a weed smoker who barely touched dope, (and young to get shot), all because this Mexican thug was rushing. The poor hippy kid sat on life support for a couple weeks and then his parents pulled the plug.

Around the same time another friend got septic from shooting dope. It was like the dope was eating her from inside out.. “Toxic Avenger” shit! You could actually see the flesh bubbling and melting. They ended up cutting pieces of her arm off and she eventually had to be put on life support. Until they pulled the plug on her too. In her case it was her and two other old-school addicts shooting from the same bag of dope, same amount, but, it must have been her time. She was the only one to get septic.

My friends and family, of course, after watching me exist for 20 years in this lifestyle didn’t think I was coming back to Maine, and with bodies dropping all around me from the heroin and the drug lifestyle that went with it, I got to the point that I almost didn’t make it out. By November I was planning on escaping back to Maine, back to the one-syllable state. At the last minute I won big in the lottery up in a local bar and bought an ounce of dope and just started partying – four days before the bus was supposed to leave! Then Helen disappeared.

Not good!! Paranoia setting in!! Shadow people!! Watching all movement!!

I checked into a detox the next day, with 3 days until my scheduled departure, just to make sure i would be physically able (and willing) to catch the bus. One of my good friends, a riotgrrl named “Viper” ended up putting me on the bus. I’d made it on, but I did have just a tiny bit of Crystal Meth on me. Just a tiny bit. On the bus, i actually hooked up with this stripper, “Charity Breeze” and we proceeded to get high together on the Greyhound, all the way to Saltlake. In Saltlake it turned out that the bus driver didn’t actually have a license to pilot a bus, so we sat waiting for 9 hours at the bus station. We finally started up again, but, by the time we hit Indianapolis, Charity was dope sick. We got off at the stop there and walked over to a Whitecastle, where my new friend proceeded to do a dope deal in the parking lot. Unfortunately, the thug that took the Charity’s money brandished a firearm and proceeded to rob her. Now, this stripper was no snitch, so we just got back on the bus, sick.

~

“In the words of total need: “Wouldn’t you?” Yes you would. You would lie, cheat, inform on your friends, steal, do anything to satisfy total need. Because you would be in a state of total sickness, total possession, and not in a position to act in any other way. Dope fiends are sick people who cannot act other than they do. A rabid dog cannot choose but bite.”
William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch

~

We ended up on different locations through the EC (the East Coast). My connection to Maine went through PA, and when I got there and I find out that it’s thanksgiving, I am pissed; I should be with my family in Maine by now, not a fucking bus station. Of course, since I was there until 6am I did a little mingling and ended up hooking up with this chick named “Mercedes,” who takes me to what they call “North side,” one curvy-ass road in some old-school grimy-ass projects. Of course someone called the cops, but Mercedes was running the show and it all worked out somehow; perhaps it was one of those Thanksgiving Day TV. miracles. Afterwards I proceeded to shoot heroin and crack until 6 am that was my Thanksgiving dinner, since I couldn’t be with my family and was stuck in PA.

I finally got home to Maine, and once back i played everything out like life was grand and my Complex P.T.S.D., as well as my many addictions and compulsions were under control. A big FAT LIE, of course. I did this, played this game all winter but ended up actually taking a dream job in NH in March. The place was straight-up Gentrification, utilizing the good ol’ boy system but with very limited money and services.

“People play it like its sophisticated and so fresh and so clean because its a college town! But really, u need adequate housing and a shelter where people aren’t scared to get stigmatized!! Affordable housing and sober living.”

Peer Support there, however, is phenomenal and “Serenity Center” is trying to perform miracles and slowly succeeding with little to work with; super cool people. At the hospitals, though, it’s “turn and burn”; they wont even give out ZYPREXA, treating it like a ticket of heroin.

Too much corruption- I swear its a federally-run dope game, kinda like Lily Pharmaceuticals teaming up with Nazi Germany and getting the methadone pattern with the Wizard of OZ behind the curtain. It’s like “the Truman Show” in NH. It needs to be more about loving kindness, not lining pockets.

So to say the least, I gave up the gig in NH and finally came home to Maine again, just three weeks ago. Of course, as soon as I hit P-town, I took a spin in the loony bin via the Maine Med ER; it was the best experience ever.

Now I am back to 100 percent!! Maybe 98. Or 97…

I’ll be fine. Swear.

Finis.

~

“The face of evil is always the face of total need.”

– William S. Burroughs

~

nixon